bacteria childhood death fungi HEALTH AND SAFETY lung infections parasites Pneumonia preventable viruses

World Pneumonia Day: Pneumonia in Children

12th November every year is a day set aside by the United Nations to raise awareness on the high prevalent rate of Pneumonia; which is preventable, yet a common cause of Childhood death. Today we have Dr Iheakaram Alfreda to tell us more on this. 


Pneumonia is a term for lung infections that can be caused by a variety of organisms like viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Most of the time, they are caused by viruses, including adenoviruses, rhinovirus, influenza virus (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human metapneumovirus, and parainfluenza virus. Pneumonia accounts for 16% of all deaths of children under 5 years old and are very common in the sub-Saharan region of Africa.
Often, pneumonia begins after an infection of the nose and throat, with symptoms starting after 2 or 3 days of a cold and sore throat. It then moves to the lungs where fluid and debris start to gather in the air spaces of the lungs and block the smooth passage of air, making it harder for the lungs to work well.
Transmission of Pneumonia
Pneumonia can be spread in a number of ways. The viruses and bacteria that are commonly found in a child’s nose or throat can infect the lungs if they are inhaled. They may also spread through air-borne droplets from a cough or sneeze. Pneumonia may also spread through blood, especially during and shortly after birth.
Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia
Symptoms vary depending on a child’s age and what caused the pneumonia. The features of viral and bacterial pneumonia are similar. However, the symptoms of viral pneumonia may be more numerous than the symptoms of bacterial pneumonia. In children under 5 years of age, who have cough and/or difficult breathing, with or without fever, pneumonia is diagnosed by the presence of either fast breathing or lower chest wall in-drawing where their chests move in or retract during inhalation. Wheezing is more common in viral infections. Very severely ill infants may be unable to feed or drink and may also experience unconsciousness, hypothermia and convulsions.
Risk factors
While most healthy children can fight the infection with their natural defences, children whose immune systems are compromised are at higher risk of developing pneumonia. A child’s immune system may be weakened by malnutrition or undernourishment, especially in infants who are not exclusively breastfed.
Pre-existing illnesses, such as symptomatic HIV infections and measles, also increase a child’s risk of contracting pneumonia.
The following environmental factors also increase a child’s susceptibility to pneumonia:
  • In-door air pollution caused by cooking and heating with wood or dung.
  • Living in crowded homes.
  • Where parents smoke.
Pneumonia should be treated with antibiotics. The antibiotic of choice is amoxicillin dispersable tablets. Most cases of pneumonia require oral antibiotics and these cases can be diagnosed and treated with inexpensive oral antibiotics at the community level. Hospitalization is recommended for severe cases of pneumonia.
Preventing pneumonia in children is an essential strategy to reduce childhood mortality. Immunization against Haemophilusinfluenzae type b (Hib), pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia.
Adequate nutrition has been found to improve children’s natural defences, starting with exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. In addition to being effective in preventing pneumonia, it also helps to reduce the length of the illness.

Addressing environmental factors such as indoor air pollution by providing affordable clean indoor stoves and encouraging good hygiene in crowded homes also reduces the number of children who fall ill with pneumonia.

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