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Neonatal erythropoiesis and subsequent anemia in HIV-positive and HIV-negative Zimbabwean babies during the first year of life: a longitudinal study

Melissa F Miller1*, Jean H Humphrey2, Peter J Iliff3, Lucie C Malaba4, Nkosinathi V Mbuya5, the ZVITAMBO Study Group6 and Rebecca J Stoltzfus5

Author Affiliations

1 Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program, Division of Cancer Prevention, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, USA

2 Center for Human Nutrition, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA

3 Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe

4 Division of Nutrition, Institute of Food, Nutrition and Family Sciences, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe

5 Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

6 Members of the ZVITAMBO Study Group, in addition to the named authors are: Henry Chidawanyika, Agnes Mahomva, Florence Majo, Edmore Marinda, Michael Mbizvo, Lawrence Moulton, Kuda Mutasa, Mary Ndhlovu, Robert Ntozini, Ellen Piwoz, Lidia Propper, Philipa Rambanepasi, Andrea Ruff, Naume Tavengwa, Brian Ward, Lynn Zijenah, Claire Zunguza, Partson Zvandasara; principal investigators are Kusum Nathoo and Jean Humphrey

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2006, 6:1  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-6-1

Published: 3 January 2006



Anemia is common in HIV infection and independently associated with disease progression and mortality. The pathophysiology of HIV-related anemia is not well understood especially in infancy.


We conducted a longitudinal cohort study nested within the Zimbabwe Vitamin A for Mothers and Babies Project. We measured hemoglobin, erythropoietin (EPO), serum transferrin receptor (TfR) and serum ferritin at 6 weeks, 3 and 6 months of age and hemoglobin at 9 and 12 months in 3 groups of randomly selected infants: 136 born to HIV-negative mothers, and 99 born to HIV-positive mothers and who were infected themselves by 6 weeks of age, and 324 born to HIV-positive mothers but who did not become infected in the 6 months following birth.


At one year of age, HIV-positive infants were 5.26 (adjusted odds ratio, P < 0.001) times more likely to be anemic compared to HIV-negative infants. Among, HIV-negative infants, EPO was or tended to be inversely associated with hemoglobin and was significantly positively associated with TfR throughout the first 6 months of life; TfR was significantly inversely associated with ferritin at 6 months; and EPO explained more of the variability in TfR than did ferritin. Among infected infants, the inverse association of EPO to hemoglobin was attenuated during early infancy, but significant at 6 months. Similar to HIV-negative infants, EPO was significantly positively associated with TfR throughout the first 6 months of life. However, the inverse association between TfR and ferritin observed among HIV-negative infants at 6 months was not observed among infected infants. Between birth and 6 months, mean serum ferritin concentration declined sharply (by ~90%) in all three groups of babies, but was significantly higher among HIV-positive compared to HIV-negative babies at all time points.


HIV strongly increases anemia risk and confounds interpretation of hematologic indicators in infants. Among HIV-infected infants, the EPO response to anemia is attenuated near the time of infection in the first weeks of life, but normalizes by 6 months.