WHAT IS PNEUMONIA?
This is a very serious infection that affects the lungs. Like many other diseases, it affects people of all ages, but is particularly serious in the very young, and the elderly, and has a much higher mortality among these two groups. Two million children are noted to die globally every year as a result of pneumonia. In sub-saharan Africa, pneumonia ranks among one of the top 5 killers of children under five.
WHO IS AT RISK OF CONTACTING PNEUMONIA?
There are certain conditions and exposures which actually make children vulnerable to pneumonia. It is very important to be aware of such situations so pre-emptive actions can be taken to avoid, or reduce the barest minimum.
All the conditions above lead to a situation whereby the lung tissue is damaged (for cold, smoke and cigarettes) and rendered vulnerable to bacteria. In the other situations, an otherwise healthy lung has more than normal exposure to the elements such as the weather which reduces the threshold for bacterial infection. Conditions like HIV and malnutrition reduces the inefficiency of the immune system, making it incapable of fighting off bacteria. Conditions that would otherwise have been controlled by well fed children become serious infections for the malnourished and those infected with HIV.
WHAT ARE THE USUAL SYMPTOMS OF PNEUMONIA?
The commonest symptom associated with pneumonia is COUGH. Sometimes the cough can be dry, or produce colourless mucus. If this is the case, the infection is likely due to a virus which is the less serious type and can heal after a few days.
However, if the mucus starts turning yellow, green or brown, or the child develops a fever which refuses to go away, then the condition becomes more serious as the infection may be due to bacteria, which should be treated promptly. Please note that even a cough that looks like it is not very serious (e.g dry cough or colourless mucus) can eventually become life threatening.
WHAT ACTION DO I TAKE IF I SUSPECT MY CHILD HAS A PNEUMONIA
This is one of those conditions where the only action is to report to a Doctor or some trained health professional. Once an infection has occurred, the only action a mother can take is to try to control the child’s fever. Once at the Hospital, the Doctor will administer antibiotics to control the infection. If the pneumonia is severe, the child may have to spend a few days at the Hospital until he or she gets better. The earlier the child is sent to hospital, the shorter the treatment course, and the less the complications.
Please, do not administer antibiotics without the advice of a health professional. Some antibiotics have severe side effects on children (as well as adults), and some antibiotics may actually not be suitable for certain bacteria, and if this is the case, the infection only gets worse even when you feel your child has commenced treatment.
ARE THERE STEPS I CAN TAKE TO PREVENT PNEUMONIA?
Luckily, there are a few steps that can be taken to reduce the chances of contacting this potentially serious infection.
Written for TBHI by Dr. Obinna Aligwekwe. Image credit: unicef.org