According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), pneumonia claims the life of a child every 20 seconds. Due to children’s weak immune systems, they can easily acquire any disease, among them, pneumonia.
Pediatricians say when you notice that your child has high fever, sweating or chills, flushed skin and a bluish tint to the lips or nail beds, that is enough evidence that they could be suffering from pneumonia.
What is pneumonia?
Stephenson Musiime, the chief consultant pediatrician at Glamerc Polyclinic Remera , Kigali, says pneumonia is a disease of the lungs caused by different types of germs, commonly bacteria and viruses in the air we breathe.
Dr Raymond Awazi, a pediatrician at Hôpital La Croix du Sud in Kigali, explains that pneumonia is the inflammation of the respiratory pathways as a result of infection.
Musiime also says the lungs become inflamed and air sacs get filled with fluid when a child has pneumonia.
“Pneumocoque bacteria are the most common cause of pneumonia and it attacks children after three years of age,” Awazi says.
He further says pneumocoque and atypical bacteria like mycoplasma pneumoniae, clamydia pneumoniae are the predominant causal germs.
Signs and symptoms
Musiime stresses that in most cases the signs and symptoms start with fever, cough, and a runny nose, though these may progress to chest pain, shortness of breath and restlessness.
In severe cases, he adds that the child will fail to feed, breathing becomes more laboured and chest movements become faster than usual with the lips and tongue turning bluish.
In addition, Awazi says pneumonia can be associated with increased respiratory, compasatory physiological responses like nasal flaring, intercostal and sub-costal recessions, as well as grunting.
He adds that breastfeeding babies can fail to suck, and can experience abnormal breath sounds like crepitations, crackles and sometimes wheezing.
“Flaring of the nostrils to breath, belly breathing, or movement of the muscles between the ribs, stuffy nose, shaking chills, vomiting, chest pain, abdominal pain (because a child is coughing and trying hard to breathe) are the other symptoms of pneumonia,”Awazi explains.
He also says pneumonia leads to less activity; adding that, for example, if the child has been so active, they will eventually reduce on the vigor.
Loss of appetite in older children or poor feeding in infants, which may lead to dehydration in extreme cases, bluish or gray color of the lips and fingernails, are the other symptoms, he says.
Prevention and treatment
Musiime says the Ministry of Health gives out pneumococcal vaccine a preventive measure.
Awazi nevertheless adds that early detection and treatment of common cold, flu-like illnesses which are mostly viral infections that can be worsened by bacterial infections can help.
Preventing pneumonia in children is an essential component of the WHO strategy to reduce child mortality. “Immunisation against Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia.”
According to health experts, adequate nutrition is key to improving children’s natural defences, starting with exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. In addition to being effective in preventing pneumonia, exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months also helps to reduce the length of the illness if a child becomes ill.
Musiime says pneumonia can also be prevented with vaccination, hand washing with soap, reducing household air pollution.
He says environmental factors such as indoor air pollution can be curbed by providing affordable clean indoor stoves, and encouraging good hygiene practices in crowded homes also reduces the number of children who get infected by pneumonia.
Awazi says basic treatment is antibiotics and symptomatic treatment.
Musiime adds that pneumonia is a serious disease, which requires attention of qualified medical personnel to assess the severity and plan management accordingly. He says majority of cases will respond well to antibiotics.