Airborne infection

Airborne infection

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

Airborne infection kills more than 4 million people per year and are the leading cause of death among children under age 5. This range of infections, which includes pneumonia in its most serious form, accounts for more than 8 percent of the global burden of disease. Airborne infection reach is global: it is the most frequent disease worldwide and a common causes of visits to pediatricians in the industrialized countries, although essentially all deaths from airborne infection occur in the developing world.

airborne infection

The risk factors for airborne infection are numerous and difficult to sort out. Airborne infection often cause by different viruses or bacteria, airborne infection is closely associated with poverty. Overcrowding and unsanitary household conditions favor the transmission of the disease, which is spread by droplets from a cough or a sneeze or unwashed hands. Death most often strikes those children who are already weakened by low birth weight, other infections, and malnutrition.

Several other factors seem to exacerbate the disease. Exposure to tobacco smoke increases the risk of contracting these infections, and many studies implicate both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution has been the focus of particular concern, specifically, the soot and smoke associated with the burning of biomass fuels such as wood, coal, or dung. Many people in the developing world, mostly in rural areas, rely on biomass fuels for heating or cooking. A cause-and-effect relationship between indoor air pollution and airborne infection has been difficult to prove, however, in part because people who use biomass fuels tend to be poor and exposed to multiple risks such as overcrowding, tobacco smoke, and malnutrition. Even so, the World Bank estimated in 1992 that switching to better fuels could halve the number of pneumonia deaths.

Other airborne diseases also thrive in conditions of poverty, exploiting enclosed spaces, crowding, and poor hygienic conditions. Tuberculosis (TB), to name just one, killed an estimated 3 million people in 1996, and nearly 7.5 million others developed the disease. TB is the single largest cause of adult death from infectious diseases. Roughly 95 percent of all TB sufferers are in the developing world, mostly in Southeast Asia, Western Pacific, and Africa -- many in the slums of poor cities. In recent years, however, TB has resurfaced in developed countries, where it is concentrated among poor populations.

Measles and diphtheria, also diseases of crowding and poverty, have been all but eliminated in the developed world since the advent of successful vaccines. In the developing world, however, measles still affects 42 million children per year who lack access to the vaccine; roughly 1 million of these children die. Since 1990, diphtheria has resurfaced in the former Soviet Union, triggered by social disruption and a drop in immunization rates.

Measles and diphtheria are just two of a cluster known as childhood (or vaccine-preventable) diseases. Other familiar diseases in this group are neonatal tetanus, poliomyelitis, and pertussis. This cluster, all linked with environmental conditions, accounts for nearly 15 percent of the total disease burden globally for children under age 5. Despite widespread immunization programs, these diseases nonetheless claimed the lives of 1,985,000 children in 1990.

The best way to prevent attracting airborne diseases is to stay away from anyone who is affected, washing hands regularly, and covering up sneezes and coughs. This will reduce the risk of bacteria and pathogenic microbial agents entering the body through the air.


Airborne microbes, pathogens, allergens and chemicals cause respiratory disease - inflammation in the nose, throat, sinuses, upper airway and the lung. Many infections are acquired by inhalation of pathogens that may remain in the respiratory system but also invade the rest of the body through lymphatic and blood circulations.

Upper airway inflammation is often expressed congestion, coughs and sore throats. Air pollution, both indoor and outdoor, plays a significant role in the exacerbation of airway disease in asthmatics and may contribute to the overall increase in asthma morbidity. Hospitalization for asthma has increased by 50% over the past 20 years, and deaths from asthma in the United States have increased to more than 5,000 per year. It is suggested that mortality is particularly high in lower socioeconomic groups who are exposed to higher levels of air pollution and have poorer access to early and effective medical care.


Airborne infection usually requires an initial chest x-ray for preliminary diagnosis. In addition, various tests may be performed to determine the type and severity of disease, including:

    Pulmonary function tests - diagnostic tests that help to measure the lungs' ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately. The tests are usually performed with special machines into which the person must breathe.

  • Microscopic examination of tissue, cells, and fluids from the lungs.

  • Biochemical and cellular studies of lung fluids.

  • Measurement of respiratory or gas exchange functions.

  • Examination of airway or bronchial activity.


The most important thing individuals can do to protect themselves against airborne infection is to become educated about sources and transmission routes of airborne pathogens. Proximity to a contagious individual for as little as one hour can cause a secondary infection. Families with children must be especially careful since the youngest children tend to bring home diseases from schools, which are then transmitted to the rest of the family. Frequent hand washing and isolating sick children in bedrooms is one approach to protecting the rest of the family.

In regard to allergens, the home environment can be improved in some simple ways even without air cleaning. Old rugs and carpets that absorb spores can be cleaned, removed, or replaced with alternatives such as linoleum or other growth-resistant materials, and the amount of sunlight entering a home can be increased in various ways.

NOTE: The above information is for processing purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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