Extra deaths from pneumonia anticipated as a result of COVID-19 – Well being and Life-style
By Henrylito D. Tacio
According to the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO), pneumonia remains the world’s leading infection killer in children under 5, despite being easily preventable and treatable.
Pneumonia causes a child every 39 seconds, the Stop Pneumonia Organization regrets.
“Pneumonia is the largest infectious death in adults and children. In 2019, 2.5 million people were killed, including 672,000 children,” reports the organization on its website stoppneumonia.org.
In 2015, the United Nations Health Department announced that the Philippines was among the 15 countries that account for 75% of the world’s cases of childhood pneumonia. In 2016, pneumonia was ranked the third largest killer in the country – just behind ischemic heart disease and cancer. In 2017, pneumonia caused approximately 57.2 thousand deaths.
Since 2009, the international community has celebrated World Pneumonia Day on November 12th each year. This year’s celebration is doubly worrying as 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) “dramatically increases the number of deaths from pneumonia due to the global pandemic and other causes”.
“COVID-19 could increase the death toll by 1.9 million this year,” warns stoppneumonia.org. “This could increase the number of deaths from pneumonia by more than 75%. No other infection causes this burden of death. “
In addition, healthcare disruptions are estimated to cause an additional 2.3 million child deaths – 35% from pneumonia and sepsis in newborns.
“We call on governments and other stakeholders to ensure that the massive efforts to combat the pandemic help to reduce infections and deaths of the respiratory tract and deaths in children and adults in the long term,” the organization said.
Pneumonia is actually an infection of the lungs that involves the small air sacs (alveoli) and the tissues surrounding them. But then pneumonia is not a single disease, but many different ones, each caused by a different microscopic organism.
“Pneumonia is usually more serious to children under five, adults over 65, people with certain medical conditions, or transplant procedures for organ or blood and marrow stem cells,” says the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) .
Lifestyle habits such as smoking cigarettes and drinking too much alcohol can also increase the chances of developing pneumonia. “Smoking damages your body’s natural defenses against the bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia,” says the Mayo Clinic.
According to the WHO, pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. The most common are: Streptococcus pneumoniae (the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in children), Haemophilus influenzae type B or Hib (the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia), and respiratory syncytial virus (the most common viral cause of pneumonia).
“Pneumocystis jiroveci is one of the most common causes of pneumonia in infants infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), accounting for at least a quarter of all pneumonia deaths in HIV-infected infants,” according to the United Nations Health Department.
In healthy adults, two types of influenza virus – types A and B – cause pneumonia. The chickenpox virus can cause pneumonia in adults as well. In the elderly, viral pneumonia is likely caused by influenza, parainfluenza, or respiratory syncytial virus.
There are three types of fungi that commonly cause pneumonia: Histoplasma capsulatum, which causes histoplasmosis; Coccidioides immitis, which causes coccidioidomycosis; and Blastomyces dermatitidis, which cause blastomycosis. Most of the people who become infected have minor symptoms and do not know they are infected. Some get seriously ill.
There are so-called “atypical pneumonias”, which are pneumonias caused by organisms other than typical bacteria, viruses or fungi. The most common causes are Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydia pneumoniae. Both bacteria-like organisms are the leading cause of pneumonia in people ages 5 to 35. Mycoplasma epidemics are reported to occur in limited groups such as students, military personnel, and families.
Pneumonia can be transmitted in a number of ways. “The viruses and bacteria that are often found in a child’s nose or throat can infect the lungs if they are inhaled,” explains the WHO. “They can also spread via air droplets from coughing or sneezing. In addition, pneumonia can spread to the blood, especially during and shortly after birth. “
“(Pneumonia) is a difficult disease to diagnose,” says Dr. Marie Budev, pulmonologist and medical director of the lung transplant program at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “Age makes a big difference, as does a person’s immune system … and of course the symptoms themselves.”
“The signs and symptoms of pneumonia can vary from mild to severe, depending on factors such as the type of germ causing the infection, your age, and your general health,” says the Mayo Clinic. “Mild signs and symptoms are often similar to a cold or flu, but last longer.”
The Mayo Clinic says that the signs and symptoms of pneumonia can include: chest pain when breathing or coughing; Confusion or changes in mental awareness (in adults aged 65 and over); Cough that can produce mucus; fatigue; Fever, sweating, and chills; lower than normal body temperature (in adults over 65 years of age and people with weak immune systems); Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea; and shortness of breath.
“Newborns and infants may not show any signs of infection,” says the Mayo Clinic. “Or they vomit, have a fever and cough, appear restless or tired and without energy, or have difficulty breathing and eating.”
Pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics. “The antibiotic of choice are dispersible amoxicillin tablets,” says the WHO. “Most cases of pneumonia require oral antibiotics, which are often prescribed at a health center. These cases can also be diagnosed at the community level by trained community health workers and treated with inexpensive oral antibiotics. “
Hospitalization is only recommended for severe cases of pneumonia.
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, as the saying goes. “Preventing pneumonia in children is an essential part of a strategy to reduce child mortality,” says the WHO. “Immunization against Hib, pneumococci, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia.”
In 2013, the Ministry of Health introduced the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine as an addition to its free primary immunization program for children in the country’s health centers.
“Non-immunization is one of the clear risk factors that make every child more susceptible to pneumonia,” said Dr. Salvacion Gatchalian, past President of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society in the Philippines. – ###