My child is diagnosed with pneumonia

This is a season that my children fall sick from malaria, typhoid or pneumonia. Kindly share some information about pneumonia as my third child is diagnosed with it. The child has been suffering from chest pain, difficulty in breathing and at times convulsion.  

Catherine V.

Thanks Catherine and wishing your child quick recovery. Pneumonia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is an infection of the lungs that is most commonly caused by viruses or bacteria.

These infections are generally spread by direct contact with infected people. Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children worldwide. Pneumonia kills an estimated 1.2 million children under the age of five every year more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. The disease is a form of acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs. The lungs are made up of small sacs called alveoli, which fill with air when a healthy person breathes.

Some potential causes?

Pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. The most common are:

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

How it is transmitted?

Pneumonia can be spread in a number of ways. The viruses and bacteria that are commonly found in a child’s nose or throat can infect the lungs if they are inhaled. They may also spread via air-borne droplets from a cough or sneeze. In addition, pneumonia may spread through blood, especially during and shortly after birth.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The presenting features of viral and bacterial pneumonia are similar. However, the symptoms of viral pneumonia may be more numerous than the symptoms of bacterial pneumonia.

In children under five years of age, who have cough and/or difficult breathing, with or without fever, pneumonia is diagnosed by the presence of either fast breathing or lower chest wall in drawing where their chest moves in or retracts during inhalation (in a healthy person, the chest expands during inhalation). Wheezing is more common in viral infections.

Very severely ill infants may be unable to feed or drink and may also experience unconsciousness, hypothermia and convulsions.

What are the risk factors?

  1. 1. While most healthy children can fight the infection with their natural defense, children whose immune systems are compromised are at higher risk of developing pneumonia. A child’s immune system may be weakened by malnutrition or undernourishment, especially in infants who are not exclusively breastfed.
  2. 2. Pre-existing illnesses, such as symptomatic HIV infections and measles, also increase a child’s risk of contracting pneumonia.

The following environmental factors also increase a child’s susceptibility to pneumonia.

  1. 1. Indoor air pollution caused by cooking and heating with biomass fuels (such as wood or dung)
  2. 2. Living in crowded homes
  3. 3. Parental smoking.

What are the treatment options?

Pneumonia should be treated with antibiotics upon prescription by a qualified health worker.

What are the preventive measures?

  • Immunization against Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia.
  • Adequate nutrition is key to improving children’s natural defense, 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).
  • Encouraging good hygiene in crowded homes also reduces the number of children who fall ill with pneumonia.


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