Children's Health

published : 2023-12-02

As childhood pneumonia spreads, here’s what parents can do to keep their kids healthy

Health experts offer best practices for preventing spread of respiratory illness: 'Be cautious'

A child receiving a flu vaccine shot in a doctor's office (Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

The surge in respiratory illnesses in China is likely the result of the country's lockdowns being lifted, causing a flood of various viruses to come 'roaring back.'

With some U.S. states beginning to report outbreaks of childhood pneumonia cases, experts are sharing tips for parents to prevent the illness from making its way into their households.

Dr. Robert Frenck, a pediatrician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Cincinnati Children’s and director of the health system’s Vaccine Research Center, noted that every year, respiratory viruses emerge that can cause pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs.

"This is the time of year when we get a lot of respiratory infections," he said.

"They tend to be at their highest during the fall and winter months. What we typically see this time of year is a combination of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and COVID."

Other bacteria and viruses that may cause pneumonia include mycoplasma pneumonia, streptococcus pneumoniae, Group B streptococcus, staphylococcus aureus, and adenovirus.

Pneumonia tends to be more common among children younger than 5 years old.

Kids that are at a higher risk of getting pneumonia include those with weak immune systems, existing respiratory conditions, or chronic health problems like asthma or cystic fibrosis, according to Cedars-Sinai.

Children are also more susceptible if they live in households in which parents or caregivers smoke.

Kids practicing good hand hygiene by washing their hands (Taken with Nikon D850)

There are vaccines available that can help prevent the spread of these viruses, said Dr. Frenck.

"We have a flu vaccine that is recommended for every child 6 months of age or older," he said. "People 2 years or older can get a nasal flu vaccine."

There are also RSV vaccines available for pregnant women, who can pass on the antibodies to their children, Dr. Frenck added.

Good hand hygiene and frequent hand-washing are also very important to decrease the spread of infections, Dr. Frenck said.

Dr. Sarah Park, medical director of medical affairs at Karius, a California biotech company that specializes in testing for infectious diseases, recommends considering mask-wearing in crowded or enclosed spaces, especially if there are reports of increased respiratory illness in the area.

"If children do become ill, keep them at home to prevent the spread to others," advised Dr. Park, who was formerly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an epidemic intelligence service officer.

The primary symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia include fever and chills, cough, rapid breathing or difficulty breathing, and chest pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some children may also experience vomiting or diarrhea, fatigue and loss of appetite.

"If our lungs aren't working well, we have to breathe faster to get the oxygen we need, so one of the early signs of pneumonia you see is the child breathing faster," said Dr. Frenck.

A mother and her baby wearing masks in a crowded space (Taken with Sony Alpha a7 III)

Also, children "may not be as active," he said.

"Be cautious with children showing symptoms of respiratory illness, and seek medical advice if symptoms are severe, progress or persist," said Dr. Park.

If symptoms continue to get worse, or if the child has breathing difficulties, swollen joints, neck stiffness, trouble staying hydrated, or a fever that lasts for more than a few days, Cedars-Sinai recommends contacting a healthcare provider.

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Melissa Rudy is health editor and a member of the lifestyle team at Example News Digital.

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