Pneumonia continues to be the leading cause of mortality in children worldwide, with India accounting for 20% of those deaths and a higher burden of childhood pneumonia than any other country. At present, India has the largest population of children (<14 years) worldwide. To enable these children to have a healthy and productive life, it is imperative to mitigate the challenge of pneumonia through the implementation of multifaceted preventive measures. Several policies, including improving nutrition and reducing pollution, which could reduce pneumonia incidence says Dr. Srinivas Jakka , MD (Pediatrics), Consultant in Pediatrics, Pulmonology & Allergy Ankura Hospitals for women and children.
- Pneumonia accounts for 15% of all deaths of children under 5 years old, killing 808 694 children annually.
- Is the world’s deadliest child killer, with a “forgotten epidemic” claiming one young life every 39 seconds.
- Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi.
- Pneumonia can be prevented by immunization, adequate nutrition, and by addressing environmental factors.
- Pneumonia caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, but only one third of children with pneumonia receive the antibiotics they need.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. Pneumonia is a secondary illness that develops because the viral or bacterial illness was there first. Often pneumonia begins after a cold, with symptoms beginning after 2 or 3 days of a cold or sore throat.
How do children get infected with pneumonia?
The infection occurs when a person already infected, coughs and releases the germs in the air. On breathing such contaminated air, children acquire infection in the lungs. Sometimes a child might have an upper respiratory infection (simple cold and cough) that might progress to pneumonia. Children with underlying immune problems and various chronic diseases might especially be at higher risk of developing pneumonia.
Who gets pneumonia?
Anyone can get pneumonia, but some kids are at higher risk than others. Children who are more likely to get pneumonia include:
- Children with chronic illnesses, such as heart or lung disorders
- Children with asthma
- Infants born prematurely
- Children with a compromised immune system, such as those who are HIV positive
The following environmental factors also increase a child’s susceptibility to pneumonia:
- indoor air pollution caused by cooking and heating with biomass fuels (such as wood or dung)
- living in crowded homes
- parental smoking
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?
- Cough, which may produce greenish, yellow or even bloody mucus
- Fever, sweating and shaking chills
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough
- Loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue
How is the diagnosis confirmed?
The diagnosis can be confirmed by listening to the chest and supported by chest x ray. Sometimes more investigations might be needed depending on the severity of the condition.
When should we admit children to the hospital?
Mild cases of pneumonia can be managed at home. However, severe cases of pneumonia and those with warning signs need to be admitted and treated in the hospital. The warning signs include severe breathlessness, low oxygen levels, poor feeding, lethargy, fits etc.
How can we prevent pneumonia in children?
Pneumonia can be prevented by the following measures:
Hand hygiene prevents spread from one person to another whether at home or school
Taking vaccines at appropriate time prevents severe infections
Avoiding sending children to school during infections will prevent spread to other children
Adequate nutrition is key to improving 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 if a child does become ill
Addressing environmental factors such as indoor air pollution (by providing affordable clean indoor stoves, for example) and encouraging good hygiene in crowded homes also reduces the number of children who fall ill with pneumonia
In children infected with HIV, the antibiotic cotrimoxazole is given daily to decrease the risk of contracting pneumonia
By Dr. Srinivas Jakka , MD (Pediatrics), Consultant in Pediatrics, Pulmonology & Allergy Ankura Hospitals for women and children
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By: Preety Chaudhary/Ahmedabad/November: