WHO updates fact sheet on Pneumonia (12 November 2015)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its fact sheet on pneumonia.

Background information:

Pneumonia is an infection that affects the lungs.

When someone has pneumonia, the air sacs in the lung (alveoli) are filled with pus and fluid, which makes breathing painful and limits oxygen intake.

Key Messages:

Pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide, accounting for 15% of all deaths among children under five years’ age.

Pneumonia killed an estimated 922 000 children under the age of 5 in 2015.


Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi:

  • Bacterial causes: Streptococcus pneumoniae   and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) are the two most common bacterial causes of pneumonia in children.
  • Viral causes: Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is the commonest viral cause of pneumonia
  • *Pneumocystis jiroveci  is one of the commonest viral causes of pneumonia among infants infected with HIV


Pneumonia can spread in many ways:

  • Inhalation from a child’s throat or nose
  • Via air-borne droplets from a sneeze or cough
  • Through blood- especially during and immediately after birth


In children under 5 years of age, who have cough and/or difficult breathing, with or without fever, pneumonia is diagnosed by the presence of either fast breathing or lower chest wall indrawing where their chest moves in or retracts during inhalation (in a healthy person, the chest expands during inhalation).

Wheezing is more common in viral infections.

Risk Factors

  • Malnutrition or undernourishment (especially infants who are not breastfed)
  • Pre-existing illnesses like symptomatic HIV infection and measles
  • Indoor air pollution (use of biomass fuels like wood or dung for heating/ cooking)
  • Overcrowding
  • Parental smoking


Pneumonia should be treated with antibiotics.

The antibiotic of choice is oral Amoxycillin presented as a dispersable tablet.

Hospitalization is required only for severe cases of pneumonia.


Immunization against Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough (pertussis) is the most effective way to prevent pneumonia.

Adequate nutrition- including exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life.

Reducing indoor air pollution

Useful Links:

Link to the updated fact sheet:


Link to ‘Ending preventable child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea by 2025 The integrated Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD)’ (2013)(Full report) (PDF):


Link to ‘Ending preventable child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea by 2025 The integrated Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD)’ (2013)(Executive Summary) (PDF):


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