Dangers of Pneumonia | Western Cape Government



Dangers of Pneumonia

12 November 2022

Did you know that pneumonia is a major cause of death in children under the age of five years?

World Pneumonia Day is commemorated annually on 12 November. Pneumonia is an infectious respiratory disease affecting the lungs, wherein the lungs (alveoli) are filled with pus and fluid, causing difficulty in breathing due to limited intake of oxygen. The disease is caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi, which can spread through airborne droplets from a cough or a sneeze.

Western Cape Government Health treated 23 011 children younger than five years old for pneumonia from November 2021 to May 2022. During the same period 6 510 children under five were hospitalised with pneumonia. Western Cape Government Health facilities recorded 22 deaths of children under five years old, although more children passed away at home.

“Pneumonia is to an extent a preventable cause of death in children. Immunisation, good nutrition and avoiding exposure to smoke are key to preventing pneumonia in children. Childhood pneumonia can cause long-term poor health, setting the stage for the development of chronic illness into adulthood.  We urge parents and caretakers to ensure that their children are fully immunised as we have effective vaccines for preventing pneumonia,” says Sr Petronella Peters, Primary Health Care Manager, Knysna and Bitou. 


Good nutrition plays an important role in enabling children’s immune systems to protect them from diseases and to help them learn and grow. One way to ensure adequate nutrition is by starting with exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life. In addition to being effective in preventing pneumonia, nutrition also helps to reduce the length of the illness if a child does become ill.  Addressing environmental factors such as indoor air pollution (by providing affordable clean indoor stoves, for example) and encouraging good hygiene in crowded homes, also reduces the number of children who get pneumonia.  Research has shown that children who have mothers or family members who smoke have a greater risk to develop pneumonia and serious illness. Immunisation is also one of the most important advances in preventing pneumonia in children, and is also highly effective for preventing some forms of pneumonia in adults.   

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of pneumonia can develop suddenly over 24 to 48 hours, or they may come on more slowly over several days.

Common symptoms include:

  • A cough which may be dry, or produce thick yellow, green, brown or blood stained mucus (phlegm);
  • Difficulty breathing – child’s breathing may be rapid and shallow;
  • High temperature (fever);
  • Sweating and shivering;
  • Loss of appetite; and
  • Chest or back pain – which gets worse when breathing or coughing.

What to do should your child show any of these symptoms:

Take your child to your nearest clinic. If the clinic is closed (after hours or weekend), take your child to the nearest emergency centre or call an ambulance on 10177.