The third annual World Pneumonia Day will be observed on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. World Pneumonia Day aims to raise awareness around the leading killer of children in the world.  Over 120 organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and the United Nations Children’s Fund, are promoting this occasion with a variety of events around the world.

Pneumonia is a common form of acute respiratory infection (ARI). Most pneumonia cases arise from infection with either a bacteria or virus. In a child suffering from pneumonia, the air sacs of the lungs are filled with fluid, making breathing difficult and limiting access to oxygen. Signs and symptoms include rapid or difficult breathing, cough, fever, chills, wheezing, and lower chest wall indrawing, a result of difficulty breathing where the chest retracts instead of expands during inhalation.

Pneumonia is responsible for an annual estimated 1.6 million deaths in children under five years old, more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. Nearly all deaths (98%) occur in the developing world. Children in developing countries are more at risk of severe pneumonia because they are more likely to be undernourished and less likely to be vaccinated. Additionally, they are often exposed to indoor air pollution created by cooking with open fires in homes with poor ventilation; poor air quality is a significant risk factor for pneumonia.

Most pneumonia deaths can be averted through proper protection, prevention, and treatment, as identified by the World Health Organization. Efforts to protect children from pneumonia include exclusive breastfeeding, handwashing, and reducing indoor air pollution through clean cookstove technology. The most prevalent strains of pneumonia can be prevented through vaccination, including the Hib and pneumococcal vaccines. Treatment involves ensuring every child has access to proper care, such as antibiotics and oxygen if needed.

The Disease Daily recently reported on expanded vaccination campaigns of the pneumococcal vaccine, funded by the GAVI Alliance. The pneumococcal vaccine prevents infection from Streptococcus pneumoniae, a common cause of bacterial pneumonia. The GAVI Alliance is rolling out the vaccine in 37 additional countries and hopes to reach 90 million children by 2015.

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