Fight Pneumonia – Save a Child: A Child Dies Every 15 Seconds of Pneumonia

Pneumonia is the fourth most common cause of death in the world and pneumococcal infection is the most frequent community-acquired pneumonia requiring hospital admission. Pneumococcal pneumonia claims between 20000 and 70000 lives every year, mostly children.

Pneumococcal pneumonia is a serious infection of the lungs which may be fatal, especially in children, old people, and those with a weak immune system. People most at risk of infection include those with chronic heart, lung, kidney or liver disease, diabetes, sickle cell disease, and an absent spleen. Poor nutrition, lack of activity and general weakness can increase the chances of getting this life threatening infection.

Globally in hospitals, most children in outpatients and also in the wards have pneumonia. One-third of the hospital’s beds, shared by up to four young children at a time, are occupied by pneumonia patients.

Pneumonia often mimics the flu, beginning with a cough and a fever, so you may not realize you have a more serious condition. Symptoms can vary depending on your age and general health. The signs and symptoms of pneumonia may include:

Fever

Lower-than-normal body temperature in old people

Cough

Shortness of breath

Sweating

Shaking chills

Chest pain that fluctuates with breathing (pleurisy)

Headache

Muscle pain

Fatigue

Because pneumonia can be serious, see your doctor as soon as possible if you have a persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fever — especially a lasting fever of 102 F (39 C) or higher with chills and sweating. Also contact your doctor if you suddenly feel worse after a cold or the flu. Be especially prompt about seeking medical care if you’re an older adult or you smoke, drink excessively, have an injury, are undergoing chemotherapy or taking medication, such as prednisone, that suppresses your immune system. For some older adults and people with heart failure or lung ailments, pneumonia can quickly become a life-threatening condition.

Pneumonia has many possible causes, but the most common ones are bacteria and viruses normally encountered in the environment. Usually your body keeps these microbes from invading your lungs. Sometimes, though, a robust germ can breach your defenses, regardless of your general health. The germs that cause pneumonia in otherwise healthy people are not usually the same ones that cause pneumonia in hospitals and other health care settings. Similarly, the germs that can infect your lungs if you inhale foreign substances (inhalation or aspiration pneumonia) differ from those that cause more-common types of pneumonia. The same is true of the germs that cause pneumonia in people with weak immune responses.

Community-acquired pneumonia

When you get pneumonia from contact with germs you encounter in the course of your normal routine, it’s called community-acquired pneumonia. These commonplace germs generally cause mild forms of pneumonia that doctors can treat without difficulty. The microbes responsible for most community-acquired pneumonia are:

Bacteria. The bacterium that causes most cases of community-acquired pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae. Other possible agents include Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae and Klebsiella pneumoniae. It’s not unusual to have pneumonia caused by more than one type of bacteria at a time. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant bacterium once found only in health care settings, now causes skin infections and pneumonia in the community too.

Bacteria-like organisms. Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a tiny organism that typically produces milder signs and symptoms than other types of pneumonia. Walking pneumonia, a term used to describe pneumonia that isn’t severe enough to require bed rest, may result from Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Legionella and Chlamydia pneumonia are two other pneumonia-causing germs that are neither bacteria nor viruses.

Viruses. Some of the same types of viruses that cause the flu and colds can also cause pneumonia. Although most cases of viral pneumonia are mild and resolve in time with rest and fluids, viral pneumonia caused by influenza viruses can become very serious. Viral pneumonia can set up a prime environment for the invasion of bacteria, causing a second infection.

Fungi and parasites. Other less-common causes of community-acquired pneumonia include fungi, parasites and the germ that causes tuberculosis. Most cases of parasitic pneumonia occur in people who live or have traveled in developing countries.

Health-care-acquired pneumonia

Severe, difficult-to-treat bacterial pneumonia is a major problem in health care facilities — not only hospitals and nursing homes, but also kidney dialysis centers and outpatient infusion centers, where people regularly receive cancer chemotherapy and other intravenous medications.

Health-care-acquired pneumonia is sometimes caused by strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae that also occur in the community. But the list of germs causing hospital-acquired pneumonia doesn’t stop there. In the hospital setting, bacteria may quickly become resistant to standard antibiotics, so drug resistant germs are much more common. Resistant bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa and MRSA make treatment difficult. People on breathing machines (ventilators), often used in hospital intensive care units, are particularly vulnerable.

With so many possible culprits and a high likelihood of resistant strains, the challenge in the hospital is to identify the causative organism & determine what antibiotics will work against it.

Inhalation or aspiration pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia occurs when you breathe foreign matter into your lungs. This can happen if you vomit while asleep or unconscious and breathe in some of the contents of the stomach. Difficulty swallowing, which occurs with diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease and strokes, occasionally leads to aspiration pneumonia.

 Opportunistic viral, bacterial and fungal pneumonia

These types of pneumonia strike people with weakened immune systems. Organisms that aren’t harmful for healthy people can be dangerous for people who have had an organ transplant and people with AIDS and other conditions that impair the immune system. Medications that suppress your immune system, such as corticosteroids or chemotherapy, also can put you at risk of opportunistic pneumonia.

 Risk factors: Factors associated with an increased risk of pneumonia include –

Age. If you’re age 65 or older, particularly if you have other conditions that make you more prone to developing pneumonia, you’re at increased risk of pneumonia. Very young children, whose immune systems aren’t fully developed, also are at increased risk of pneumonia.

Certain diseases. These include immune deficiency diseases such as HIV/AIDS and chronic illnesses such as heart disease, emphysema and other lung diseases. You’re also at increased risk if your immune system has been weakened by chemotherapy or long-term use of immunosuppressant drugs.

Smoking. Smoking damages your body’s natural defenses against the bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia.

Having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and using inhaled corticosteroids for more than 24 weeks. Research indicates that this greatly increases your risk of developing possibly serious pneumonia.

Exposure to certain chemicals or pollutants. Your risk of developing some uncommon types of pneumonia may be increased if you work in agriculture, in construction or around certain industrial chemicals or animals. Exposure to air pollution or toxic fumes can also contribute to lung inflammation, which makes it harder for the lungs to clear themselves.

 Prevention: Take these steps to prevent pneumonia –

 Get vaccinated

Although a long list of germs and inhaled irritants can cause pneumonia, vaccination lowers your risk of two leading offenders.

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.

Childhood vaccines. 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.

 Take care of yourself

Ordinary respiratory infections sometimes lead to pneumonia, so do what you can to protect yourself from all kinds of germs. Here are the basics:

Wash your hands. Your hands are in almost constant contact with germs that can cause pneumonia. These germs enter your body when you touch your eyes or rub the inside of your nose. Washing your hands often and thoroughly can help reduce your risk. When washing isn’t possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Don’t smoke. Smoking damages your lungs’ natural defenses against respiratory infections.

Stay rested and fit. Proper rest and moderate exercise can help keep your immune system strong.

Eat a healthy diet. Include plenty of fat-free dairy products, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Set an example. Stay home when you’re sick. When you’re in public with a cold, catch your coughs and sneezes in the inner crook of your elbow.

Sakina Foundation’s campaign ‘Fight Pneumonia – Save a Child’, brings public awareness about the importance of immunizations across the lifespan in preventing this disease and promote optimal immunization of all children, especially before two years of age, and particularly in those areas where this is most needed, based on current epidemiology and assure improved timely access to immunizations for infants, children, adolescents and adults and educate policy-makers, health care providers, school administrators, parents, and other care providers about vaccines, vaccine preventable diseases, and the cost benefit of timely immunization.

Sakina Foundation encourages community participation at the grassroots level to strengthen and enhance current immunization outreach efforts.

Fight Pneumonia, Save a Child with Sakina Foundation