The Danger Signs of Pneumonia
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pneumonia is the leading killer of children that causes more casualties than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. Approximately two million pneumonia-related deaths occue each year, accounting for one out of every five child deaths. The annual incidence of pneumonia is estimated at 151 million new cases per year, of which 11–20 million cases accounting for about 7 to 13 percent of lung disease cases are severe enough to require hospitalization. Yet too little is being done to reduce lung disease-related deaths among children.
A study was found that only about one-fifth of caregivers know the “danger signs” of pneumonia, including its two tell-tale symptoms of fast breathing (17%) and difficult breathing (21%). A little more than half of children sick with pneumonia receive proper care. Antibiotics, the recommended treatment was only given to 1 in 5 children with pneumonia in the early 1990s.
It was found that only a small number within the population existed in the prevalence of pneumonia and in caregivers’ knowledge of pneumonia’s “ danger signs.” It is also a discouraging fact that there is an unequal care for children with pneumonia. Children from richer families and better educated mothers and those living in urban areas were more likely to receive appropriate medical treatment.
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lung, usually caused by an infection. Three common causes are bacteria, viruses and fungi. Most cases of pneumonia among children occur sporadically and not in outbreaks. People most at risk are older than 65 or younger than 2 years of age, or already have health problems. Person-to-person transmission may occur by direct contact with infectious secretions.
Approximately 10 to 20% of all children less than 5 years old in developing countries acquire pneumonia each year. About 1% of pneumonia cases result in bronchiectasis, which increases the risk of recurrent infections. Sometimes, a child’s only symptom is rapid breathing. When the pneumonia is in the lower part of the lungs near the abdomen, there may be no breathing problems at all. However, there may be fever and abdominal pain or vomiting.
When pneumonia is caused by bacteria, an infected child usually becomes sick relatively quick. The child may also experience a sudden onset of high fever and unusually rapid breathing. When pneumonia is caused by a certain virus, symptoms tend to appear more gradually and are often less severe than in pneumonia caused by bacteria.
Some types of pneumonia cause symptoms that give important clues about which germs are causing the illness. In older children and adolescents, for example, pneumonia due to Mycoplasma (also called walking pneumonia) is notorious for causing a sore throat and headache in addition to the usual symptoms of pneumonia.
In general, pneumonia is not contagious, but the upper respiratory viruses that lead to it are, so it is best to keep a child away from anyone who has an upper respiratory tract infection.
According to WHO, reducing child deaths from pneumonia requires implementing effective prevention programs. This include promoting breastfeeding, reducing child under-nutrition, encouraging hand washing and raising immunization rates. A pneumococcal vaccine may be available for routine use which would likely have a significant effect in reducing child deaths from pneumonia.