Children are some of the most vulnerable to disease in the world, and a shockingly high number of childhood deaths are easily preventable with the proper vaccines and healthcare. But where these are not available, or parents are not educated about their children’s needs, tragically high number of childhood deaths are reported each year. The following are some of the most dangerous and fatal childhood diseases, though some are more prevalent than others due to medical advancements.
Sources: WHO.int, JHSPH.edu, CDC.gov
Additional resources: ACLS Training Center
Over 81 percent of deaths from pneumonia are in children under two years old, but these deaths are widely preventable. Researchers estimate that the vast majority of these cases could be prevented by vaccines, and were largely caused by malnutrition, sub-optimal breastfeeding, and zinc deficiency. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia experience the highest burden of these cases, and countries such as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Chad, and Mali continue to experience a growing number of cases each year.
Childhood diarrhea is largely caused by infections from viruses such as rotavirus, bacteria such as salmonella, and occasionally parasites, such as giardia. In children, viruses are most common, and the key is preventing dehydration. As diarrhea results in massive fluid loss, the most important facet in helping children recover is to keep them hydrated, otherwise seizures, brain damage, and death may occur.
Centered mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, malaria is an extremely dangerous disease in children. Carried by mosquitos, malaria can be contracted easily if the proper preventive medication isn’t taken, which is often hard to come by in many rural towns and villages. Children who contract malaria will experience fevers, chills, and flu-like symptoms that can lead to severe complications and death if left untreated.
Polio is spread from person to person and invades the brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis. No cure has ever been found for polio, but vaccines have been enormously successful in preventing it. Though polio has been largely eradicated in the Western world, its spread has continued in many countries in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
The highly contagious measles virus is especially dangerous for children under the age of five, as they are at higher risks of complications such as pneumonia. The respiratory infection results in a high fever, along with a classic rash, and though regular measles can be treated with ibuprofen or paracetamol to reduce fever and pain, the further complications can prove to be fatal, especially for children.
Diptheria is an upper respiratory illness caused by a bacteria that can be highly infectious, particularly in close quarters. It has been largely eradicated in the developed world, but remains a problem in the developing world, particularly in rural areas where the vaccine is difficult to come by. Though diphtheria can present in manageable forms, in severe cases, lymph nodes can swell to the point where they restrict breathing, and death may occur.
Also preventable with vaccines, tetanus occurs through wound contamination of a cut or puncture wound. The infection causes muscle spasms in the jaw and throughout the rest of the body as the skeletal muscle fibers contract. Post-exposure prophylaxis can also help prevent infection, but is extremely difficult to come by in some areas of the developing world.
Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is highly contagious and makes it difficult to breathe, as those that suffer from it are afflicted with uncontrollable, violent coughing. Infants and children under the age of 1 are most commonly affected if they are not immunized with the DPT vaccine.
Neonatal conditions, ranging from prematurity, to birth asphyxia, to birth trauma, are some of the leading causes of childhood deaths, most often brought on by insufficient medical care and parent education. A child’s risk of dying is highest in the neonatal period – in fact, 44 percent of deaths in children under the age of 5 take place during the neonatal period.
HIV/AIDS account for approximately 3 percent of all childhood deaths, brought about by mother-to-child transmission from birth or breast-feeding. Sadly, the relative contribution of HIV/AIDS to the total mortality of children under-five in sub-Saharan Africa continues to increase, as education and medical treatment are less frequently available.