Early lung infection raises children’s pneumonia risk

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  • The risk rises with hospitalisation within three months of birth
  • Early infection may cause damage to the airways
  • Vaccination is needed to protect against main cause of viral pneumonia in children

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[NAIROBI] Children hospitalised with lung infections in the first three months of life were more likely than children hospitalised for other reasons to be readmitted with pneumonia within the next two years, a study shows.

The study, published in the February issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, focused on more than 2,800 children below five years old who were admitted to a rural district hospital in Kenya between 2002 and 2010.

"We found that cases of readmission with pneumonia were higher among children initially hospitalised with lung infections — irrespective of the cause — compared with those hospitalised with other conditions," says Patrick Munywoki, an infectious disease epidemiologist, at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kilifi, Kenya, and the lead author of the study.

"This is probably because lung infections in early life damage the airways or alter how the child responds to infections, making them more vulnerable to severe lung diseases such as pneumonia in subsequent years," he tells SciDev.Net.

The children in the study were placed into three different groups based on the cause of their first admission. The first group comprised those hospitalised with lung infections caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), while those in the second one suffered lung infections caused by other organisms such as bacteria.

Children in the last group were admitted with other medical conditions not associated with the lungs such as malaria and diarrhoea.

Using a medical database of residents living near the district hospital, the researchers were able to follow up on the children and determine who was readmitted.

James Nokes, a researcher at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme who also participated in the study, says that "preventing lung infections among young children could also protect them from latter hospitalisation due to pneumonia".

According to Nokes, the study underscores the need to develop a vaccine that will protect children against RSV, which is the leading cause of viral pneumonia among children.

Moses Alobo, the medical director at GlaxoSmithKline Kenya, says all children should be vaccinated against other major causes of lung infections, such as pneumococcal bacteria.

Babies of less than three months old who are admitted with lung infections should be monitored closely after discharge since they are likely to be admitted again with pneumonia, he says.

"Parents of those children should also be trained to identify symptoms of lung diseases such as breathing complications, to enable them to seek medical attention in time before the child’s condition worsens," adds Alobo.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

Link to full article



Emerging Infectious Diseases doi: 10.3201/eid1902.120940 (2013)