Explained: On World Pneumonia Day, the disease and its burden

WHO identifies pneumonia is the single largest cause of death in children worldwide. (File Photo)

Since 2009, November 12 has been observed as World Pneumonia Day to raise awareness about the infection.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies pneumonia is the single largest cause of death in children worldwide. Every year, it kills an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five years, accounting for 18% of all deaths of children under five years old worldwide, according to the WHO.

This, despite pneumonia being preventable and treatable.

What does the infection entail?

According to the WHO's factsheet on pneumonia, infectious agents may include bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in children, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia. Respiratory syncytial virus is the most common viral cause of pneumonia.

Air sacs in an infected individual's lungs (alveoli) become inflamed due to deposits of fluid and pus, making it painful and difficult for them to breathe. Children and the elderly above the age of 65 years are especially vulnerable.

Who is at risk of infection?

According to the WHO, while healthy children can successfully fight the infection, children whose immune systems are weaker due to malnutrition, undernourishment, or other diseases, have a reduced ability to recover.

Indoor air pollution caused by cooking and heating with biomass fuels, living in crowded homes, and parental smoking can increase a child’s probability of contracting the infection.

Child pneumonia deaths are the highest in countries such as Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia, where undernutrition and malnutrition are widespread.

What are the symptoms of infection?

Symptoms include high fever and chills, cough with phlegm, physical weakness and a feeling of being unwell, shortness of breath and rapid breathing, and a racing pulse.

And how can it be prevented and treated?

Preventive measures include maintaining hygiene and getting vaccinations against certain pneumonia causing bacteria.

Saving a child from pneumonia requires urgent treatment, that usually involves the administration of antibiotics, which typically do not cost much. On average, treatment lasts for about five to seven days.

What is the burden of the disease?

According to UNICEF, a child dies of pneumonia every 39 seconds, which translates to roughly 8,00,000 children every year, and over 2,200 every day, including 1,53,000 newborns.

Also read | Premature deaths in India: Different causes, different states