A six-year-old girl started coughing. She was also bringing up a lot of mucous and her breathing was becoming quite fast and noisy. She was taken to the hospital and was diagnosed with pneumonia based on these symptoms. The doctor then ordered a chest X-ray, prescribed some antibiotic drugs and advised her to rest and keep up her fluid intake.
She returned to school the following week after completing her round of antibiotics as the congestion in her lungs gradually cleared till she fully recovered from the ailment.
Pneumonia, the world’s leading infectious killer of children under the age of five, is simply defined as an infection of the lungs parenchyma. Although the organisms that cause the disease are contagious, they can be spread to other people through cough and sneezing.
Children who have pneumonia could infect other people from the time they start to manifest the symptoms until they have been treated. Adults and children with asthma have a higher incidence of pneumonia. Respiratory tract infections are very common in children and occasionally they could develop into pneumonia.
Pneumonia is the second major killer of Nigerian children after malaria. Medical experts are worried about the rate at which Nigerians, particularly children, are losing their lives to the disease. Each year, about 146,370 children lose their lives to the disease. This number is unacceptable for a disease that can be prevented with simple precautions like immunisation and good hygiene.
Bacterial pneumonia: This is caused by a bacterial infection which usually affects one lobe or section of the lung. Bacterial pneumonia can affect children of any age and they can develop very quickly. The disease is most likely to be associated with a very high fever and a cough that is productive of sputum (phlegm), although children tend to swallow sputum rather than cough it up.
Viral pneumonia: It is caused by a virus and it is probably the most common type of pneumonia affecting children of any age, although it tends to affect infants and preschool-aged children most frequently.
Other forms of pneumonia are caused by mycoplasma, fungi and immune depression.
Signs and symptoms
The following are clues that your child may have pneumonia: fever, coughing (sometimes with pus-coloured phlegm), shortness of breath and sometimes painful breathing.
The doctor can diagnose pneumonia based on the child’s symptoms, physical examination, complete blood count and chest X-ray results.
Pneumonia does not usually result in complications, but this depends on what is causing the condition and how long it takes to treat it. Complications of bacterial pneumonia can include septicaemia, lung and brain abscess, meningitis and even death.
Medical intervention is always required for bacterial pneumonia, but, in most cases, children can be treated at home. In addition to antibiotics, a patient will need plenty of rest and he or she will have to keep taking in fluids. A penicillin-based antibiotic is the standard treatment that doctors use for bacterial pneumonia.
However, antibiotics will not help viral pneumonia. Usually, children with viral pneumonia would get better by themselves over a period of time. Most children would have a cough that lasts for some weeks after the infection. The age of the child and the severity of the illness would dictate whether hospitalisation is necessary or not.
Children may need to go to a hospital if they are less than one-year-old, have severe breathing difficulty or are dehydrated.
Although the organisms that cause pneumonia are contagious, the viruses or bacteria can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. Children who have pneumonia could infect other people by the time they start to manifest the symptoms. Vaccines are available against the common types of pneumonia. Avoiding cigarette smoke will also reduce you and your child’s predisposition to this infection. Hand washing is also a very important preventive method.
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