Doctors in Africa often fail to notice that many young children have serious anaemia because they have a bacterial infection. An international team of researchers, including Wageningen nutritionists, have published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Anaemia is still an important cause of death of children in Africa. Doctors describe anaemia as when the red blood cells have too little haemoglobin to supply the body with sufficient oxygen. They usually treat the problem by giving children extra iron or examining whether they have malaria.
The researchers discovered that in Malawi, however, an iron deficiency paradoxically offers some protection against serious anaemia. They think that the low amount of iron delays the growth of virulent bacteria in the body. On the other hand, a serious bacterial infection, such as salmonella, increases the chance of anaemia.
Other factors noted in the study that increase the risk of anaemia include HIV, hookworm infection, vitamin A and B12 deficiency, and hereditary abnormalities.