Emergency hospital admissions for children with pneumonia have increased by more than 50% in England over the past decade, according to the data, with higher hospitalization rates in the most disadvantaged areas.
According to NHS Digital data analyzed by the Unicef and Save the Children charities, between April 2018 and March 2019 there were 56,210 emergency shelters in England for pneumonia in subjects aged 18 or under, using a definition that included a type of lower respiratory tract infection called bronchiolitis. On the contrary, there were 36,862 of these admissions between April 2008 and March 2009.
The charities say that the current figure is equivalent to six children being taken to the hospital every hour.
The data reveal that the increase is mainly driven by a large increase in bronchiolitis, with small increases in other diagnoses including viral pneumonia and influenza with pneumonia.
When the team examined recent data, they found that the percentages of hospital admissions for children were higher in the more private areas of England.
Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children, said: "I would describe pneumonia as the last disease of poverty, both in the UK and globally."
While overall across England in 2018-19, just over 450 out of 100,000 children registered with general practitioners were hospitalized with pneumonia as an emergency, the rate was more than double for the task group NHS clinic Scarborough and Ryedale, at 1,058 per 100,000. NHS Oldham CCG had the second highest rate of 993.7 per 100,000.
The team said it was still discarding why rates were higher in the most disadvantaged regions. However, according to the World Health Organization, crowded housing, indoor air pollution, parental smoking, lack of breastfeeding and malnutrition are among the factors known to increase the risk of pneumonia in children.
Watkins urged parents to be aware of the symptoms of pneumonia in children, including breathing difficulties, fever, cough and improper feeding, noting that delays in diagnosis and treatment could lead to a serious case.
Since 2006, as part of the childhood vaccination program, children under the age of two in the United Kingdom have received a pneumococcal vaccine known as PCV, which protects from 13 different strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae. These bacteria are a common cause of pneumonia, although they can also be caused by some fungi and viruses.
Data show that hospital admissions for emergency children with bacterial pneumonia alone have decreased. However, PCV is among the vaccines for childhood for which in recent years the spread has been adopted throughout England, alarming experts who say that children are left unprotected against serious diseases such as measles .
While charities say that the hospital numbers seem largely driven by an increase in viral infection, bronchiolitis – which is not protected against PCV – experts urged parents to make sure their child had been vaccinated against pneumonia and influenza.
Anthony Harnden, professor of primary care at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the work, stressed the need for prevention.
"Although there may be more reasons why bronchiolitis in children is increasing in the UK, such as lower thresholds for hospitalization and diagnosis, these figures only reinforce the need for parents to immunize their children with the pneumococcal vaccine and the influenza vaccine to reduce their risk, "he said.
"Furthermore, there will be future vaccines to protect from respiratory syncytial virus, a major cause of bronchiolitis."