British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

Plasma vitamin A and zinc levels in HIV-infected adults in Cape Town, South Africa

M. E. Vissera1 c1, G. Maartensa2, G. Kossewa3 and G. D. Husseya3

a1 Nutrition and Dietetics Unit, University of Cape Town, South Africa

a2 Infectious Disease Unit, Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town, South Africa

a3 Child Health Unit, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Cape Town, South Africa


A cross-sectional study of 132 adults attending an HIV clinic in Cape Town, South Africa, was conducted to determine predictors of low plasma vitamin A and Zn levels. No patients were on antiretroviral therapy. The possible confounding effect of the acute-phase response was controlled by including C-reactive protein levels in multivariate analysis and by excluding active opportunistic infections. Retinol levels were low (<1·05 μmol/l) in 39 % of patients with early disease (WHO clinical stages I and II) compared with 48 and 79 % of patients with WHO stage III and IV respectively (P<0·01). Plasma Zn levels were low (<10·7 μmol/l) in 20 % of patients with early disease v. 36 and 45 % with stage III and IV disease respectively (P<0·05). C-reactive protein levels were normal in 63 % of subjects. Weak, positive associations were found between CD4+ lymphocyte count and plasma levels of retinol (r 0·27; 95 % CI 0·1, 0·43) and Zn (r 0·31; 95 % CI 0·25, 0·46). Multivariate analysis showed the following independent predictors of low retinol levels: WHO stage IV (odds ratio 3·4; 95 % CI 2·1, 5·7) and body weight (odds ratio per 5 kg decrease 1·15; 95 % CI, 1·08, 1·25), while only body weight was significantly associated with low Zn levels (OR per 5 kg decrease 1·19; 95 % CI 1·09, 1·30). CD4+ lymphocyte count <200/μl was not significantly associated with either low retinol or Zn levels. In resource-poor settings, simple clinical features (advanced disease and/or weight loss) are associated with lowered blood concentrations of vitamin A and/or Zn. The clinical significance of low plasma retinol and/or Zn levels is unclear and more research is required to establish the role of multiple micronutrient intervention strategies in HIV disease.

(Received March 18 2002)

(Revised September 18 2002)

(Accepted November 05 2002)


c1 *Corresponding Author: Ms Marianne Visser, fax +27 21 4066534, email