Globally, pneumonia accounts for 20% deaths among children below 5 years, making it the leading cause of death in the age group. According to the Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP), annually, India witnesses 45 million pneumonia cases among children under 5 years of which 0.37 million die due to pneumonia.
“Creating a clean environment, addressing the issue of malnutrition, breast feeding for the first 6 months of life, timely immunization and appropriate healthcare delivery for children in India will significantly reduce mortality rates due to vaccine preventable diseases like pneumonia," says Dr. Rohit C Agrawal, National IAP President.
Pneumonia is an acute respiratory disease in which the lung is infected by bacteria, virus, fungus or parasite. According to the WHO, Streptococcus pneumonia responsible for Pneumococcal diseases (PD) is the prime cause for hospitalizations and death among children below 5 years [annually, approx. 0.9 million deaths worldwide and 1,20,000 deaths in India].
Pneumococcal disease comprises - pneumonia (lung infection), meningitis (brain infection), bacteremia (blood infection), otitis media (ear infection) and sinusitis (sinus infection). Infants, neonates, premature babies aged 24-59 months with underdeveloped lungs, narrow airways, poor nutrition and immature immune system are at high risk of contracting these infections.
Young children, infants, premature babies aged 24-59 months are at a high risk for Pneumonia. Pre-existing illnesses, such as symptomatic HIV infections and measles increase a child's risk of contracting pneumonia.
Preventing pneumonia in children is an essential component of a strategy to reduce child mortality. Immunization against Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia.
Adequate nutrition is key to improving children's natural defences, starting with exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. In addition to being effective in preventing pneumonia, it also helps to reduce the length of the illness if a child does become ill.
Addressing environmental factors such as indoor air pollution (by providing affordable clean indoor stoves, for example) and encouraging good hygiene in crowded homes also reduces the number of children who fall ill with pneumonia.
In children infected with HIV, the antibiotic cotrimoxazole is given daily to decrease the risk of contracting pneumonia.
Children should receive the seasonal flu vaccine every year. Doctors also recommend a pneumonia vaccine — pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, as opposed to pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, which is for adults — for all children younger than age 2 and for children ages 2 to 5 years who are at particular risk of pneumococcal disease, including those with immune system deficiency, cancer, cardiovascular disease or sickle cell anemia. Children who attend a group day care center should also get the vaccine.
Prevention for Adults
Seasonal flu shot. The influenza virus can be a direct cause of viral pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia is also a common complication of the flu. A yearly flu shot provides significant protection either way.
Pneumonia vaccine. Doctors recommend a one-time vaccine against Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria (pneumococcus) for everyone older than age 65, as well as for people of any age residing in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. In addition, the vaccine is recommended for anyone at high risk of pneumococcal pneumonia. The high-risk categories are smokers; anyone with heart disease, lung disease or other chronic conditions; and anyone with reduced immune defenses due to HIV or long-term therapy with immunosuppressant drugs, such as corticosteroids or medications to prevent transplant rejection.
*Images courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images * Data Courtesy:Indian Academy of Pediatrics
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