Children at risk of pneumonia as winter approaches

Timely treatment can prevent child deaths, experts say
Star file photo

With the advent of winter, physicians have urged parents to stay extra cautious to keep their children safe from pneumonia.

They advised the parents to ensure proper and timely treatment if their children get infected with pneumonia to avoid fatalities.

Pneumonia is still the main cause of deaths of children under five in Bangladesh. But if intervened timely, pneumonia can be cured, according to the experts.

Pneumonia, which is caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, leaves children to fight for their lives as their lungs fill with pus and fluid caused by the disease.

"Falling sick with the cold and cough increases in winter. But there are differences between normal flu and pneumonia. We have to be extra cautious for children especially under five," Prof Dr Iffat Ara Shamsad, head of the paediatric department at Dhaka Medical College, told The Daily Star.

As pneumonia is an infection of lungs, its most common symptoms are coughing, breathing problem and fever, according to Dr Iffat.

She said, "Children with pneumonia usually experience fast breathing, or their lower chest may draw in or retract when they inhale. In case of normal cough or fever, there is no breathing issue."

If parents notice pneumonia symptoms in their children, they should visit doctors or hospitals immediately, she suggested.

At Dhaka Medical College Hospital, the number of admissions of childhood pneumonia patients have already started rising.

"We have been receiving some 8-10 childhood pneumonia patients every day recently. It will continue to rise as November and December is the peak season for pneumonia cases in our country," Dr Iffat said.

Surveys have found that parents often take their children to hospital at the last moment, especially when they need critical interventions like oxygen support.

As a result, more than 24,000 children still die of pneumonia in the country every year, which is around 18 percent of the total deaths of children under five.

Most pneumonia deaths can be prevented with vaccines, and easily treated with low-cost antibiotics. A very few one-year-olds in Bangladesh are unvaccinated.

But more than half of the unvaccinated children who suffer from pneumonia do not medical access, the survey said.