As many know, Pneumonia is a respiratory infection which affects one’s lungs. A condition which needs no introduction, but one which continues to affect thousands of lives annually.
Such is the impact this infection still has the human species, that the World Health Organisation (WHO) states, “Pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide. Pneumonia killed 808 694 children under the age of five in 2017, accounting for 15% of all deaths of children under five years old.”
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases explains the viruses and bacteria which cause the disease are spread through airborne droplets from a cough or sneeze.
Pneumonia infection can cause the lungs to fill with pus and fluid. This makes breathing and oxygen intake extremely difficult.
The NICD highlights that while anyone can get Pneumonia, children with weakened immune systems or underlying illnesses are more susceptible to the dreaded infection—and is why more children die from Pneumonia than adults.
Nicole Wolter, a principal medical scientist at the Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis (CRDM) at the NICD, explains there have been some critical advances in preventing and treating the disease. These advances include vaccines, antibiotics and providing supplemental oxygen. Wolter points out that in 2009, South Africa became the first African country to include the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in its routine infant immunisation programme. Through this programme, an estimated 81% of one-year-old babies had received three doses of the vaccine by 2012.
But the NICD emphasises that despite the progress made, much work remains. The institute stresses that in 2016, influenza and Pneumonia were the second leading cause of death in children younger than five years in South Africa. For this reason, the NICD is monitoring critical areas related to the cause and effects of Pneumonia.
But what exactly causes Pneumonia?
WHO explains Pneumonia is caused by several infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi.
The most common are:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae – the most common cause of bacterial Pneumonia in children.
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) – the second most common cause of bacterial Pneumonia.
- Respiratory syncytial virus is the most common viral cause of Pneumonia.
- In infants infected with HIV, Pneumocystis jiroveci is one of the most common causes of Pneumonia, responsible for at least one-quarter of all pneumonia deaths in HIV-infected infants.
As the medical sector works tirelessly to combat this infection, coming up with several advancements, WHO stresses immunisation against Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) is the most effective way to prevent Pneumonia as is adequate nutrition and addressing environmental factors such as indoor air pollution and encouraging good hygiene in crowded homes.
With medical professionals doing their part, be sure to join in on the fight against Pneumonia today by vaccinating your child, adopting good hygiene practises, and providing your child with a nutritious diet. Also, be sure to visit your local GP if you suspect your child has Pneumonia.