Readers, we talk all the time here about the unexpected and deadly attack of MRSA pneumonia, both on its own and as a sequela of influenza infection. But we should acknowledge that MRSA pneumonia is part of an epidemic of pneumonia, an under-appreciated disease of severe lung inflammation that takes the lives of 2 million children each year around the world.
Today, Nov. 2, has been declared World Pneumonia Day by an enormous coalition of global health organizations that includes UNICEF and Save the Children. (Mis amigos Latinos sabrán que está hoy también Dia de los Muertos. Fitting, no?) From their press release: “Pneumonia takes the lives of more children under 5 than measles, malaria and AIDS combined. The disease takes the life of one child every 15 seconds, and accounts for 20% of all deaths of children under 5 worldwide.”
World Pneumonia Day is being marked by events around the globe (here’s a clickable map) and by the release of a World Health Organization report, the Global Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Pneumonia. The plan has three main goals, aimed at the recourse-poor countries where most pneumonia deaths occur:
- promote breastfeeding to ensure children’s nutrition and good immune status
- protect immunity by guaranteeing the distribution in the developing world of the pneumonia vaccines we take for granted in the industrialized world, against Haemophilus influenzae and Strep pneumoniae (pneumococcus)
- treat children when they need it by making sure that there is adequate, local primary care and — important for our purposes especially — also making sure that antibiotics are used appropriately, but not overused.
The international organization GAVI (formerly known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, now going just by its acronym) has announced plans to immunize 130 million children worldwide against pneumonia and other diseases by 2015.
I want to underline that pneumonia is of interest to us for several reasons: not just because we are concerned for MRSA pneumonia, but also because we are in the midst of the H1N1 pandemic, and as we have talked about before, bacterial infections appear to be playing a role in a significant percentage of the deaths. There is no MRSA vaccine, but there are Hib and pneumo vaccines, which might have prevented some of those deaths. So increasing the administration of pneumonia vaccines could affect the course of this pandemic right now, as well as the fates of children all over the world who have not contracted this flu but will be in danger of bacterial pneumonia in the future.