Save your lungs and avoid inflammation
November 12 (World Pneumonia Day) is a yearly reminder that pneumonia can strike anywhere and anytime, and is a serious, potentially life-threatening lung infection.
November 12 (World Pneumonia Day) is a yearly reminder that pneumonia can strike anywhere and anytime, and is a serious, potentially life-threatening lung infection. Pneumonia is an inflammatory respiratory disorder caused due to bacteria, viruses or fungal infections which impair the air sacs of the lungs, called 'Alveoli'. It results in the accumulation of fluid or pus in the air sacs, making breathing difficult. It is a contagious disease and could be fatal for the person with weaker immunity, especially children and elderly people. Bacteria were first seen in the airways of individuals who died from pneumonia by Edwin Klebs in 1875. Pneumonia is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Pneumonia – a lung infection caused by bacteria, viruses and, more rarely, fungi – is the most common cause of death in children worldwide. Every year an estimated 156 million new cases of pneumonia and nearly 2 million deaths from the disease occur in children under 5 years of age. Babies and children who are 2 years old or younger are at higher risk because their immune systems are still developing. This risk is higher for premature babies. Older adults aged 65 or more are also at higher risk because their immune systems generally weaken with age. Effective vaccine and non-vaccine interventions to prevent and control pneumonia are urgently needed to reduce the global burden of the disease.
Children living in areas with declining vaccination rates, rising malnutrition due to food shortages, and in homes that use polluting fuels for cooking and heating, are particularly vulnerable. The situation in children is no different where it continues to be the leading cause of mortality worldwide, with India accounting for 20 per cent of those deaths and having a higher burden of childhood pneumonia than any other country. Overall, India accounts for 23 per cent of the pneumonia burden globally and case fatality rates range between 14 and 30 per cent. Pneumonia is primarily due to infections of virus and bacteria. Mixed infections with both viruses and bacteria may occur in up to 45 per cent of infections in children and 15 per cent of infections in adults. Pneumonia caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, but only one-third of children with pneumonia receive the antibiotics they need. While most healthy children can fight the infection with their natural defences, children whose immune systems are compromised are at higher risk of developing pneumonia. The organisms affecting the elderly are the same as in young adults, but with a different age-related distribution.
Any infection causing an inflammatory response in the lung is referred to as pneumonia. Though the majority of pneumonia is caused by bacterial infections, viral infections like influenza or Covid-19 virus can also affect the lungs and can cause serious inflammatory damage to them, as evidenced in the ongoing pandemic. People with infectious pneumonia often have a productive cough, fever, accompanied by shaking chills, shortness of breath, sharp or stabbing chest pain during deep breaths, and an increased respiratory rate. More severe signs and symptoms may include decreased thirst, convulsions, persistent vomiting, or a decreased level of consciousness.
Washing hands, quitting smoking, and keeping your immune system strong by getting regular physical activity and eating healthy food are other ways to lower your risk of getting pneumonia. Most cases of pneumonia require oral antibiotics, which are often prescribed at a health centre. These cases can also be diagnosed and treated with inexpensive oral antibiotics at the community level by trained community health workers. More research needs to be done on the different pathogens causing pneumonia and the ways they are transmitted, as this is of critical importance for treatment and prevention.
Vinod C Dixit