Pneumonia is infection or inflammation of one or both lungs. In simple English it is also called a chest infection. It can be life-threatening, especially in the case of little children.
By Dr Harish V S
Pneumonia is usually caused by a virus or bacteria. The most common virus which causes pneumonia is RSV (respiratory syncytial) viruses and influenza A or B. Most common bacteria which causes pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumonia. It occasionally follows a simple cold.
In a recent data published by the WHO (World Health Organization), pneumonia still accounts for most of the deaths (around 13 per cent) in children under the age of five globally. Pneumonia claims the life of a child every 20 seconds. However, with the advent of Pneumococcal vaccination in infants, better living conditions and better nutrition, instances of childhood pneumonia has reduced greatly in the western world. Although the Pneumococcal vaccine has been introduced in India, it has remained on the back shelf as an optional vaccine due to poor awareness.
As far as symptoms of pneumonia are concerned, the affected child could exhibit common flu-like symptoms of a cough and cold, fever and which could slow progress to difficulty in breathing. The child could also suffer from pain in the chest and stomach ache along with the above-mentioned symptoms. Other symptoms to look out for include noisy breathing or fast breathing or fast heart rate, paleness, tiredness and a feeling of lethargy.
Proper, prompt and timely initiation of antibiotics is the mainstay to manage pneumonia. Oral antibiotics such as a syrup or a tablet would be enough for simple and non-complicated pneumonia. If a child has repeated vomiting, the child is unwell or if the parents or child carers are unable to supervise the child at home, then it is advisable to take a medical intervention. In such cases, the doctors at the hospital inject antibiotics through the vein. Also, oxygen therapy may be required at some point but if oxygen levels are normal then it may not be required. Pneumonia is always treated with antibiotics.
If untreated, pneumonia can lead to complications like the collection of pus or abscess, accumulation of fluid in the lungs and eventually inability to sustain normal breathing leading to even death.
If your child has pneumonia:
A cough is the body’s protective response to keep the airways open during any infection involving the airway. The more people use cough syrups to suppress a cough, the more will they land up in trouble. The chances of not expectorating the phlegm out of the airway are very high when using cough syrups. Hence treating the reason behind a cough is important than suppressing cough. This is one major way to prevent pneumonia.
Nutrition plays a major role in preventing the development of pneumonia. A malnourished child can also die due to pneumonia as he or she lacks the ability to fight the infection. Major nutrients like fat, protein, vitamins and minerals play an important role. Micronutrients like Iron, copper, zinc, selenium also play a major role in helping the immune system.
Even as new discoveries in the medical field are made every day and medicine marches towards newer and much effective vaccinations, lesser and lesser number children under the age of five years are dying of preventable illness.
However, the figures in India don’t match up to the western world. This can be attributed to poor awareness and myths, and superstitions which play a major role. For instance, Streptococcus Pneumoniae is a bacteria that causes debilitating illness in various parts of our body. One of the main organs it affects is the lung and leads to major complications with a high incidence of death if timely treatment is not initiated.
Vaccination against this bacteria prevents pneumonia and its related complications to a great extent. The west had introduced pneumococcal vaccination for babies as early as 6 months of age. They have seen a huge response to an improvement in survival and lesser complications of pneumonia.
In India, sadly this has been promoted as an optional vaccine in certain centres. India should not lag in preventing pneumonia and keeping our children safe.
Prompt treatment with antibiotics can help to resolve a potentially serious chest infection. You should trust your physician whose job is to get your child well again and not abuse the use of antibiotics.
Prompt and compulsory pneumococcal vaccination helps to prevent pneumonia caused by Streptococcus Pneumoniae.
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