Five things you need to know about pneumonia

According to the WHO, pneumonia is by far the largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide

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In November 2023, Chinese non-state media reported on pediatric hospitals in certain parts of China being overwhelmed with sick children, Photo: Getty Images
In November 2023, Chinese non-state media reported on pediatric hospitals in certain parts of China being overwhelmed with sick children, Photo: Getty Images
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

Recently, there has been an unusual spike in the number of cases of respiratory infections such as pneumonia around the world.

In November 2023, China's National Health Commission announced that there had been a spike in the number of several diseases in the country, including influenza, covid and mycoplasma pneumonia - a common bacterial infection affecting young children.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) later said that health authorities had not detected any unusual pathogens in the clusters of childhood pneumonia cases in China that could cause concern.

This is the first winter after the quarantine in China, where stricter pandemic measures have led to weakened immunity among the population.

The WHO attributed these cases of pneumonia to a gap in immunity in children who were isolated, leading to large outbreaks once exposure to pathogens returned to normal.

Other countries, including the UK, France, Denmark, and the US, also experienced similar spikes in the number of cluster-like illnesses after the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

According to the WHO, pneumonia is by far the biggest infectious cause of death in children in the world.

In 2019, it killed 740.180 children under the age of five, which accounts for 14 percent of all child deaths in this age group.

Deaths are highest in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Here are five things we should know about pneumonia.

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What is pneumonia?

According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs, usually caused by an infection.

Anyone can get pneumonia, but some people are more at risk.

Young children, older adults, or people with certain medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, diseases that weaken the immune system, and certain cancers are more at risk.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and weakness.

But complications can include respiratory failure, sepsis and even death.

Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent serious infections.

According to the American Lung Association, people should seek help as soon as they notice symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, blue lips and fingertips, chest pain, high fever, or a cough with mucus that is severe or worsening.

How does pneumonia spread?

Pneumonia can be transmitted in several ways.

Viruses and bacteria that can often be found in a child's nose or throat can infect the lungs if inhaled.

They can also be spread by airborne droplets from coughs or sneezes, or by touching objects and transferring the germs onto them.

More research needs to be done on the different pathogens that cause pneumonia and how they are transmitted, as this is crucial for treatment and prevention.

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How is pneumonia treated?

Antibiotics are recommended if the infection can be treated - while some people may not need antibiotics.

Most people recover in two to four weeks.

However, some people are more likely to become seriously ill and may need to go to hospital for treatment.

In the hospital, people are usually given fluids and antibiotics, along with oxygen to help them breathe easier.

They could also have their lungs x-rayed and blood tests done to check for other conditions.

How can I avoid getting pneumonia?

There are a number of steps you can take to prevent it.

Vaccines can help prevent pneumonia caused by pneumococci or the flu virus, but they cannot prevent all cases of pneumonia, according to the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

However, compared to people who don't get vaccinated, those who get vaccinated and still get pneumonia tend to have fewer serious complications, milder infections, and a form of pneumonia that doesn't last as long.

Good hygiene (frequent hand washing), quitting smoking, and keeping your immune system strong with regular physical activity and a healthy diet are other ways to reduce your risk of getting pneumonia.

Britain's National Health Service recommends that people who are prone to getting seriously ill with pneumonia get the pneumococcal vaccine, also known as the pneumonia vaccine.

This vaccine also helps protect against some other types of bacterial infection that can cause serious illnesses such as meningitis (an infection of the brain and spinal cord) and sepsis (a life-threatening reaction to an infection).

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