When there is an infection in the lungs, these alveoli fill with pus and fluid, which is the body’s natural response to fighting the infection. This infection of the lungs makes breathing difficult and limits the supply of oxygen.
There are two types of bacteria that are responsible for most pneumonia-related deaths: Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and Streptococcus pneumonia (Spn). Hib and Spn bacteria can also cause acute meningitis (infection of the membranes covering the brain) in young children, which can lead to lifelong disabilities.
Symptoms of pneumonia
Cough is a common symptom of respiratory infections, including pneumonia. Many children with coughs, colds and fever have upper respiratory tract infections caused by viral infections.
Children with pneumonia have rapid breathing and a severe cough. In severe cases, the child may have a pulling of the lower chest wall when inhaling, which can lead to growling and difficulty breathing. If your child has such a cough with rapid breathing, immediate control is recommended even if these other symptoms do not occur, as it could be a case of pneumonia.
Burden of pneumonia
Very few people know that pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children around the world. Each year, it kills an estimated 1.2 million children under the age of five, accounting for 18% of all deaths of children under the age of five worldwide. In India, it kills nearly 397,000 children each year and is the leading cause of infant mortality. However, pneumonia can be easily prevented. Death is not the only consequence of pneumonia – a serious disease that affects a child’s development is caused by pneumonia. Pneumonia can cause serious illness, resulting in multiple visits to the doctor and often hospitalizations, placing a significant burden on families, the healthcare system and society in general.
Pneumonia can be easily prevented with existing interventions for child survival. These interventions include a variety of comprehensive prevention strategies such as frequent hand washing and general cleanliness, reduction of the spread of disease, access to health care, and immunization. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is essential to ensure that the child receives adequate nutrition and develops natural immunity against infections. Addressing environmental factors such as indoor air pollution (by providing clean, affordable indoor stoves, for example) and encouraging good hygiene in crowded homes also reduces the number of children who get sick with pneumonia.
Vaccines are the most economical way to protect your child from pneumonia. A comprehensive approach to the prevention of pneumonia, including access to new and available vaccines, is needed to combat this deadly disease.
In India vaccines against Hib and Streptococcus pneumoniae are available. The Indian government recently introduced the pentavalent vaccine in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Karnataka, Gujarat, Delhi, Goa and Puducherry. Pentavalent protects children against 5 diseases, including pneumonia / meningitis / blood Hib infection, diphtheria, pertussis (pertussis), tetanus and hepatitis B. This vaccine is available free of charge at public hospitals and health centers. of the aforementioned states.
Infants receive three doses of the pentavalent vaccine at 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age. After that, they need a booster dose of DTP and Hib when they are 15-18 months old. The vaccine follows the normal immunization schedule and can be integrated into the country’s immunization program. The Hib vaccine has been shown to be effective in numerous studies and is widely supported by the global and Indian health communities. The Hib vaccine has been introduced in over 180 countries around the world, including countries neighboring India including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, etc. All of these countries are currently administering pentavalent vaccines.
Treatment of pneumonia
Pneumonia is not only preventable, but also treatable, especially with early diagnosis. While children with viral respiratory tract infections do not need medication, children with bacterial pneumonia should be treated with appropriate antibiotics. Treatment in hospitals or health centers often includes supportive care such as the administration of oxygen.
(Data Courtesy: Prof. Dr. P. Sudershan Reddy, MD, DCH, Consultant Chief Pediatrician, Krishna Childrens Hospital, Lakdi-ka-pool, Hyderabad, AP)
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