World Pneumonia Day: Decoding the disease

On the occasion of World Pneumonia Day, we look at some facts, figures and preventive measures that can be taken towards Pneumonia

World Pneumonia Day is a global initiative that helps to bring Pnemonia, a health crisis to the attention of the general public and encourages policy makers and grassroots organizers alike to combat the disease.

Pneumonia is a preventable and treatable disease that sickens 155 million children under 5 and kills 1.6 million each year. This makes pneumonia the number 1 killer of children under 5, claiming more young lives than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. Yet most people are unaware of pneumonia’s overwhelming death toll.

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Affordable vaccines
Affordable treatment and prevention options exist in spite of the disease's massive death toll.

There are effective vaccines against the two most common bacterial causes of deadly pneumonia, Haemophilus influenzae type B and Streptococcus pneumoniae, and most common viral cause of pneumonia, Orthomyxoviridae. A course of antibiotics which costs less than $1(US) is capable of curing the disease if it is started early enough.

Pneumonia x-ray
The X ray of a pneumonia-afflicted patient's lungs

The Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia (GAPP) released by the WHO and UNICEF on World Pneumonia Day, 2009, finds that 1 million children's lives could be saved every year if prevention and treatment interventions for pneumonia were widely introduced in the world's poorest countries.

Preventive methods other than vaccines
Smoking appears to be the single biggest risk factor for pneumococcal pneumonia in otherwise-healthy adults.

Hand hygiene and coughing into one's sleeve may also be effective preventative measures.

Wearing surgical masks by the sick may also prevent illness.

Reducing indoor air pollution, such as that from cooking indoors with wood or dung is recommended.

Testing pregnant women for Group B Streptococcus and Chlamydia trachomatis, and administering antibiotic treatment, if needed, reduces rates of pneumonia in infants preventive measures for HIV transmission from mother to child may also be efficient.

>> Exclusive breast feeding during the first six months of life and adequate nutrition through age five protect babies from pneumonia, diarrhea, malnutrition, and other diseases.

Regular hand washing and access to clean water and sanitation protect children against pathogens that cause pneumonia, diarrhea, and other diseases.

Eliminating household air pollution, especially smoke from unsafe cookstoves, reduces the risk of severe pneumonia in children.

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