World Pneumonia Day is observed globally on November 20th. Pneumonia is a general term that refers to an infection of the lungs, which can be caused by a variety of bugs, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. In 2013 worldwide, more than 900,000 children died from this preventable and treatable illness – mostly in developing countries, accounting for 15% of under-five child mortality, 2% of which are newborns. (worldpneumoniaday) In Qatar, respiratory diseases are the leading cause for hospital admission in the pediatric population and young adults.
This World Pneumonia Day, we are speaking with Dr. Nizar Kherallah, Sidra’s Senior Attending Physician Pulmonary Pediatric Consultant who explains that respiratory illnesses including pneumonia are the leading cause of hospital admissions in children.
In Pediatric Patients
Pneumonia usually starts as an upper respiratory infection that spreads into the lower tract which is when pneumonia can develop. Early treatment is key to halting the spread of pneumonia, which can be either viral or bacterial.
Symptoms vary (depending on the age of the child) but common ones include:
• Fast or difficult breathing
• Poor feeding behavior in babies
• Nasal congestion
• Chest pain
• Abdominal pain
• Decreased activity
Dr. Kherallah advises that it is best to seek advice from a physician or an urgent care center if symptoms are particularly bad. A physician will do a thorough examination and may order an X-ray and blood work to determine the cause and advise on the best course of treatment. Typically, treatment is supportive – particularly when the cause of the infection is thought to be a virus – this includes intravenous fluids if the child is thought to be dehydrated and antibiotics if the infection is bacterial.
There is now also a vaccine as part of the global childhood immunization program which all children under two should receive and this is usually administered in the first year of life.
Generally, a healthy lifestyle and eating good wholesome foods can go some way to prevent pneumonia, as well as avoiding smoking (including passive smoking), and breasfeeding your child exclusively for the first six months of their life. If our bodies are healthy we will in turn have a healthy immune system which gives us the ability to fight infections.
In Older Patients
Those aged over 65, as well as those who have an ongoing chronic illness (of any age) are also recommended to have this vaccine. In the over 65s age group, pneumococcal infection is the most common cause of serious pneumonia and a broad range of other diseases. As well as infecting the lungs, pneumococcal bacteria can infect the blood stream. This type of infection is called invasive pneumococcal disease and is responsible for causing the more serious consequences of pneumococcal infection, such as septicemia (blood poisoning), meningitis or a more serious form of pneumonia, all of which are more likely to lead to death than non-invasive infections.
Living in this part of the world (GCC) can pose its own particular challenges connected to respiratory infections. Sandstorms can carry bacteria so it is advised for those with chronic respiratory illnesses to wear a face mask to minimize the risk of inhaling them. Additionally, vitamin D deficiency is a common condition in many GCC countries causing people to be more susceptible to infections, including respiratory illnesses. There is a test to find out the level of vitamin D in the body and medication is available to increase levels should it be required.
Remember – most infections are viral so the best cause of treatment is usually fluids and rest. Antibiotics don’t work on viral infections, only bacterial, so it is important not to overuse antibiotics when they are not needed as they can create drug resistant superbugs within a population.