Pneumonia Fact Sheet – World Pneumonia Day

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Today is being observed as World Pneumonia Day. World Pneumonia Day is annually held on November 12 to raise awareness of pneumonia, promote prevention and treatment, and generate action to fight the illness.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs. The lungs are made up of small sacs called alveoli, which fill with air when a healthy person breathes. When an individual has pneumonia, the alveoli are filled with pus and fluid, which makes breathing painful and limits oxygen intake.”

Below are some important facts about the disease:

  1. Pneumonia is the single largest cause of child deaths worldwide. In 2015 alone, an estimated 922,000 children have died from this preventable and treatable illness, accounting for 16 per cent of under-five child mortality worldwide – three per cent of whom are newborns.
  2. The mortality rate is up to 30 per cent for patients with severe pneumonia who require treatment in an intensive-care unit. Overall, around five to 10 per cent of patients who are treated in a hospital setting die from the disease. Pneumonia is more likely to be fatal in the elderly or those with chronic medical conditions or a weakened immune system.
  3. Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria or 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 commonest causes of pneumonia, responsible for at least one quarter of all pneumonia deaths in HIV-infected infants.
  4. The disease can be spread in a number of ways. The viruses and bacteria may be:
    • inhaled
    • spread via air-borne droplets from a cough or sneeze
    • spread through blood, especially during and shortly after birth
  5. Bacteria are the most common cause of pneumonia in adults.
  6. The symptoms of viral and bacterial pneumonia are similar. However, the symptoms of viral pneumonia may be more numerous than those 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 indrawing where their chest moves in or retracts during inhalation (in a healthy person, the chest expands 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.
  7. There are a number of potential complications of pneumonia. The infection that causes pneumonia can spread to the bloodstream, causing sepsis – a serious condition that can result in lowering of blood pressure and failure of oxygen to reach the tissues of the body, and pleural effusion – the accumulation of fluid in the space between the lung tissue and the chest wall lining.
  8. Most people with pneumonia improve after three to five days of antibiotic treatment, but a mild cough and fatigue can last longer, up to a month. Patients who required treatment in a hospital may take longer to see improvement.
  9. Pneumonia can be prevented by immunization, adequate nutrition and by addressing environmental factors. The following environmental factors can 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.
  10. Bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics. The antibiotic of choice is amoxicillin dispersable tablets. Most cases of pneumonia require oral antibiotics, which are often prescribed at a health centre. However, only one third of children with pneumonia receive the antibiotics they need.
  11. Antibiotics are ineffective against viral pneumonia. Antiviral medications can provide benefit when started early in the course of the disease.
  12. Immunization against Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia.
  13. In 66 of the 189 signatory countries to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for maternal, newborn and child survival, the cost of antibiotic treatment for all children with pneumonia is estimated at around US$ 109 million per year.

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