All over the world, there is no single infectious entity responsible for more deaths of children than Pneumonia. Every year, around 800,000 children die due to it, more deaths than AIDS and Malaria combined which is analogous to 1200 jumbo plane crashes every year. Every minute, 2 children die from Pneumonia yet, pneumonia is neglected and awareness is low despite being preventable and treatable.
The 12th of November is designated as the World Pneumonia Day, a day set aside to raise awareness on this killer entity, promote interventions to protect against, prevent and treat pneumonia and to generate action to combat pneumonia. This year is the tenth anniversary of the World Pneumonia Day.
What Is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a complex infectious disease that affects the lungs. The alveoli are small sacs in the lungs which fill up with air when we breathe and are necessary for air exchange. In pneumonia, they are filled with pus and fluids. This limits oxygen intake and makes breathing difficult and painful. It causes cough, fever, chills and difficulty in breathing which may be mild or serious enough to lead to death.
Pneumonia is responsible for around 100 million infections yearly and nearly a million deaths with children under 5 the most hit group because their immune system is not fully developed and cannot respond adequately to the microorganisms causing pneumonia. It is also a common cause of death in the elderly.
What Causes Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is usually caused by a pneumococcal infection caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus Pneumoniae but may be caused by other bacteria as well as viruses and fungi. Pneumonia may also be caused by breathing in vomit or foreign objects such as chemicals or a peanut. This is commonest in children, hospitalized patients who are being fed in bed and industrial workers.
Pneumonia is commonest in areas with poor sanitation, overcrowding, poverty, no access to safe water and to healthcare. Underweight children, poorly breastfed children, children living with parents or carers who smoke, and children with congenital diseases like cleft palate or congenital heart diseases are most at risk.
What Are The Symptoms Of Pneumonia?
The symptoms of Pneumonia may be mild, causing mild discomfort or severe enough to require hospitalization or even lead to death. This mostly depends on age, the organism causing the Pneumonia, and one?s overall health. It may affect just one lung (called lobar pneumonia) or patches within both lungs (called bronchopneumonia).
The following are the signs and symptoms you may experience if you have Pneumonia. They tend to develop over a couple of days, progressively worsening if treatment is not sought.
- Cough with green, yellow or bloody mucus or dry
- Fast and/or shallow breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Fever, chills and excessive sweating
- Chest pain which is worsened by coughing
- Low energy, appetite and fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
- Joint and muscle aches
- Confusion, especially in the elderly
Generally, bacterial pneumonia is often more serious than pneumonia caused by viruses. Pneumonia is particularly worse in children under five, malnourished children, adults over the age of 65, people with underlying health conditions like diabetes, people who smoke, people with a weakened immune system and people on steroid therapy or cancer treatment. A doctor can diagnose pneumonia by asking a few questions, examining you and ordering a few tests which may include blood tests, sputum tests and imaging tests like X-rays and CT scans.
How Is Pneumonia Treated?
In mild cases, pneumonia may be treated on an outpatient basis. In this case, you are encouraged to drink plenty of fluids, get adequate rest and use prescribed medications. Recovery occurs in a matter of days. When severe, pneumonia is treated in hospitals. This is to prevent complications and death.
How can Pneumonia be prevented?
Vaccines have been developed against the two of the most common bacterial causes of Pneumonia (Haemophilus influenzae type B and Streptococcus Pneumoniae) and the most common viral form of Pneumonia, Orthomyxoviridae. The pentavalent vaccine that prevents against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type B is available for children in Nigeria as part of the immunization schedule.
Preventing pneumonia also involves:
- Practising good hygiene such as
covering one's mouth when sneezing or coughing.
- Hand washing also helps curtail
the spread of the microorganisms responsible for the spread of pneumonia.
- Endeavour to quit smoking and limit
exposure to second-hand smoking
- Cut down on alcohol intake
- Eat healthily to help your body's natural defence against infections.