Wed | Sep 28, 2022

Pneumonia: The biggest infectious killer

Published:Wednesday | November 10, 2021 | 12:09 AM

PNEUMONIA IS the single biggest infectious killer of adults and children, claiming the lives of 2.5 million, including 672,000 children, in 2019. Deaths from COVID-19 will add two million more in 2021, bringing the total to more than four million. No other infection causes anywhere near this burden of death.

Air pollution is the leading risk factor for death from pneumonia across all age groups. Almost a third of all pneumonia deaths were attributable to polluted air, killing around 749,200 in 2019. Household air pollution contributed to 423,000 of these deaths while outdoor air pollution contributed to 326,000.

It is the very young and the very old who are at greatest risk. Children are more susceptible to household air pollution in homes that regularly use polluting fuels and technologies for cooking, heating and lighting. While outdoor air pollution, especially from pollutants emitted by industries and car exhaust smoke, disproportionately affects respiratory health among older adults.

To end the preventable burden of childhood pneumonia and deaths there is a need to:

• Raise awareness about pneumonia, the leading killer of young children;

• Strengthen, accelerate and sustain interventions to prevent and treat pneumonia;

• Focus on equitable access to, and delivery of comprehensive pneumonia prevention and control programmes;

• Design specific strategies to reach the ‘harder-to reach’ populations to improve their accessibility to available interventions;

• Conduct research to develop innovative strategies to reduce the burden of pneumonia.

The symptoms of pneumonia can be easily mistaken with cold and flu. The symptoms may also vary according to the severity of the infection and the type of germ that has affected the individual. Symptoms are usually similar to cold and flu but can persist for longer.


• High fever with chills or sweating;

• Coughing with the presence of mucus;

• Difficulty in breathing while performing day-to-day activities;

• Pain in chest which may worsen while coughing;

• Loss of appetite;

• Racing heartbeat;

• Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea;

• Headache and fatigue.

The intensity of the infection is determined by many factors such as the micro-organism causing the infection, the overall health as well as the age of the affected person. Diagnosis is established based on the medical history of the affected person, laboratory tests and other diagnostic and imaging tests.

Treatment depends on the type of infection that causes pneumonia. If pneumonia occurs due to a viral infection, no specific treatment is employed and the individual’s health usually improved on its own. In case of bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics are used. People suffering from long-term diseases, especially those of the kidneys, lungs or the heart, and have a weak immune system, pneumonia tends to be severe.

SOURCE: World Health Organization (WHO); StopPneumonia.Org