Early treatment may be key to stemming pneumonia deaths

Early treatment may be key to stemming pneumonia deathsMpumalanga has the country's fourth highest maternal mortality rate (File photo)

As pneumonia remains a leading cause of death in South Africa, experts stress that early treatment is key to heading off this killer infection.

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Children, especially those living with HIV, are particularly vulnerable to Pneumonia
Children, especially those living with HIV, are particularly vulnerable to pneumonia (file photo).

Pneumonia is the largest single cause of death in children worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation. In South Africa, pneumonia – together with influenza – is the second leading natural cause of death and was responsible for about 7 percent of deaths in 2011, according to figures released by Statistics South Africa this year.

Today, 12 November, is World Pneumonia Day.

HIV-positive infants are particularly vulnerable to developing pneumonia due to their compromised immune systems, according to Head of University of Cape Town’s Department of Paediatrics and Child Health Dr Heather Zar.

Meanwhile, the key to preventing pneumonia deaths is early treatment, according to University of the Witwatersrand professor and pulmonologist Dr Mervyn Mer.

“We need to pick pneumonia early and treat it early,” said Mer, speaking at a recent media briefing organised by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. “If we got our health care system in order, and people who are diagnosed with pneumonia get their first dose of antibiotics in the first two hours, we could salvage these patients…”

Pfizer Country Brand Leader Victor Behrens added that pneumonia has far reaching consequences.

“Pneumonia creates an economic burden for families, communities and the government,” he told OurHealth. “At the individual level, it can have dramatic effects on a person’s life, including long-term, health-related complications.”

Bacteria, viruses and fungi are just some of the causes of pneumonia, according to the US-based Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.