Many people don’t know that pneumonia is the world’s leading killer of children before their fifth birthday. Pneumonia takes the life of one child every 20 seconds, over 4,300 children a day – that’s more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Pneumonia causes the lungs to become filled with fluid, leading to cough, fever, and difficulty breathing. It can prevent oxygen from reaching the bloodstream and lead to secondary infections. If left untreated, pneumonia can be fatal. Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents. It may be spread through the inhalation of infectious particles, or by touching contaminated objects. Infants and young children as well as older adults are at greatest risk of infection, as are those whose immune systems are compromised by other illnesses such as the flu.
There are many simple and effective ways to prevent pneumonia. Getting vaccinated is the most important, but proper nourishment and hand washing will also reduce one’s risk. Environmental factors like exposure to secondhand smoke also increase susceptibility. Exclusive breastfeeding of infants in the first six months of life bolsters their immunity to combat diseases, including pneumonia. When access to healthcare and treatment are available, pneumonia may be detected through chest x-rays or lab tests and treated with antibiotics.
Over 98 percent of children who die of pneumonia live in developing countries. While pneumonia might not be claiming a life in your back yard, the good news is that childhood pneumonia is one of the most solvable problems in global health. Millions of children around the world do not have to die from this disease. But despite the devastating toll pneumonia is taking on children around the globe, public funding for pneumonia pales in comparison to that afforded better-known yet less prevalent diseases. Pneumonia is a solvable problem if the right people can be motivated to take advantage of the tools available to combat this disease.
World Pneumonia Day is occurring this Saturday, November 12th. World Pneumonia Day was established to bring focus on child pneumonia as a public health issue. Advocates around the world will be joining in the effort to make pneumonia a priority that day. You can join in the effort. Find out more about pneumonia and the exciting work being done around the world to combat this illness by visiting www.worldpneumoniaday.org.Every Monday, the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.