Research Highlights

Altitude aggravates pneumonia in children

Published online 6 November 2013

Aisha El-Awady

An international team of researchers found that the severity of pneumonia, a persistent bacterial or viral infection in the lungs, can be influenced by the altitude at which a child lives and whether the child is anaemic, publishing their findings in Pediatrics. Pneumonia is the most common cause of death in children under five years of age causing approximately 1.2 million deaths each year.

In healthy children living at high altitude, the body compensates for the lack of oxygen by producing more oxygen-carrying red blood cells. But in children with lung disease, low oxygen levels in the air and an impaired ability to absorb oxygen into the bloodstream can be fatal.

By studying 958 children with severe pneumonia in low and middle-income countries, the team — led by Peter Moschovis of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, including Salem Banajeh of Sana'a University in Yemen — found that blood oxygen levels took longer to normalize in children living at high altitudes, compared with those living below 2000 metres. Also, cases of pneumonia in anaemic children living at altitude were more severe with a greater risk of treatment failure.

"These children are a vulnerable group that merit further investigation," says Moschovis.


  1. Moschovis, P.P. et al. Childhood Anemia at High Altitude: Risk Factors for Poor Outcomes in Severe Pneumonia. Pediatrics 132: 1-7 (2013)