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Severe acute malnutrition

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Purpose of review

Advances in our understanding of the treatment of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in a resource-limited environment are needed to improve outcome.

Recent findings

Ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs) made from local products and with reduced milk content lower costs and may be effective in older children. None of the therapeutic foods used to treat severely malnourished children correct long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid deficiencies.

Routine short-term antibiotic (amoxicillin) treatment, in the context of adequate healthcare supervision, does not improve the recovery rate. Long-term antibiotic (cotrimoxazole) treatment also does not provide significant benefit to non-HIV-infected children.

Increased pathogenic bacteria have been found in the intestinal microbiome of malnourished children and candidate organisms for use as probiotics have been identified. There is, however, no evidence to support the routine use of probiotics in these children. Although exocrine pancreatic function is reduced in malnourished children, routine pancreatic enzyme supplementation does not lead to accelerated recovery.Summary

Alternative RUTF may provide a cheaper and more acceptable alternative to standard RUTF in the near future. Further research is needed to understand the implications of fatty acid deficiencies and dysbiosis that occur in malnourished children. Routine antibiotic administration in the appropriate setting is unnecessary.
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Keywords: antibiotics; exocrine pancreas; human microbiome; polyunsaturated fatty acid; ready-to-use therapeutic foods; severe acute malnutrition

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Publication date: May 1, 2018

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