Carla Fjeld/IAEA

Parasitic infestations and the spread of communicable diseases are more prevalent in malnourished populations




























Assessing Interactions: Pollution and Infection

Nutritional status is not only determined by the quality and quantity of food consumed. Nutrition and pollution are interconnected: pollutants in the environment may deteriorate the nutritional status of populations; and poor nutritional status may increase the health risks posed by pollutants. To study this, a new CRP has been initiated in 11 countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, China, India, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Morocco, Peru, Sweden, and Viet Nam) to assess the effects of mercury and lead pollutants on the metabolism of key micronutrients.

Nutrient deficiencies impair the functioning of the immune system, which can lead to dramatically higher risk of infection. Faecal pathogens often cause diarrhoea, which then causes food and nutrients to be poorly absorbed by the body. Among the Agency’s priority activities are projects on the prevalence of infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (Hp) — linked to chronic malnutrition and diarrhoea syndrome in infants or children — and the impact of nutrition on infection by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).


Results from Indonesia show the prevalence of H. pylori infection among children suffering the consequences of malnutrition.

IAEA Project: INS-11081


The 13C-urea breath test uses a stable isotope of carbon (13C) to detect H. pylori infection. The IAEA is transferring this test through an on-going CRP to study the prevalence of Hp infection in those at risk of early childhood malnourishment and diarrhoeal death.

Poor nutrition increases the risk of HIV infection and the progression of the disease. Undernourished people are not only more susceptible to HIV infection, they also develop AIDS more quickly once infected. As the disease progresses and becomes more serious, dramatic weight loss occurs. The IAEA is using isotope-based techniques to assess nutrition intervention programmes in 10 African countries (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia). The regional project is also monitoring participants’ body composition to provide early warning of the need for nutritional intervention.


Operational Sequence of   13C-Breath Test

Intake of 13C-labelled urea
together with a test meal.

30 minutes later:

H. pylori negative !!
No enzymatic reaction,
little 13CO2 in breath.

H. pylori positive !!
Hp cleaved urea to from 13CO2
which reaches breath via blood circulation.

1. Blow up the first breath bag
2. Drink 13C-labelled test liquid and
    wait for 30 minutes
3. Blow up the second breath bag
4. Measurement

Figure credit: H. Fischer, K. Wetzel/FAN-GmbH