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Incidence of Viral Pneumonia Up in Young Children

66 percent of pneumonia cases in more than 2,000 children studied caused by viruses alone

THURSDAY, Feb. 26, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Young children are at increased risk of becoming seriously ill with pneumonia — but unlike in years past, the cause is usually a respiratory virus, according to a study published in the Feb. 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Seema Jain, M.D., a researcher at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and colleagues tested body fluid samples from 2,222 children treated for pneumonia at three U.S. children’s hospitals. The investigators found that nearly three-quarters of the children had viral infections — either alone or in combination with a bacterial infection.

The researchers found that 66 percent of the pneumonia cases were caused by viruses alone. Just 8 percent had solely bacterial causes, and 7 percent were known to be caused by both bacteria and viruses. The most commonly detected virus was respiratory syncytial virus. On the other hand, Jain’s team found, only 15 percent of children in the study had evidence of a bacterial infection (alone or in combination with a viral infection).

“Pneumonia is one of the most common causes of hospitalizations among children,” Jain told HealthDay. All of the children in this study had fluid samples tested for pathogens, but in the real world that does not always happen. Jain said that when a child is sick with pneumonia, parents should feel free to ask whether any testing was done to pinpoint the cause. But right now, Jain and her colleagues write, there is a need for better tests — ones that are more sensitive, cheaper, and faster.

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