‘White lung’ pneumonia spreads after similar outbreak in China

Health bosses worldwide have raised concerns after cases of pneumonia in children have skyrocketed.

Physicians in parts of the US have noted an uptick in paediatric pneumonia cases – some of which are mycoplasma pneumonia, a type of pneumonia also currently seen in China, Denmark and the Netherlands.

In a statement issued last week, Warren County Health District in Ohio reported an increase in pneumonia cases – 145 cases in children aged between three and 14 since August.

This has been classified as an “outbreak” due to the case numbers being above average.

The main types of pathogens causing the outbreak have been identified as streptococcus pneumoniae, adenovirus, and mycoplasma pneumoniae.

Mycoplasma pneumonia is often referred to as “white lung syndrome” due to the fact it causes the lungs to appear white on X-rays.

It is also known as “walking pneumonia” as it can be mild enough to allow patients to continue daily activities while unwell.

As reported, the World Health Organisation announced it was “monitoring” the situation in China and had asked officials for more information surrounding an increase in respiratory conditions.

Chinese authorities attributed the rise to a number of factors including the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the arrival of the cold season, and circulating pathogens such as flu, mycoplasma pneumoniae and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Francois Balloux of the University College of London Genetics Institute said: “China is likely experiencing a major wave of childhood respiratory infections now as this is the first winter after their lengthy lockdown, which must have drastically reduced the circulation of respiratory bugs, and hence decreased immunity to endemic bugs.”

While health officials in Warren County noted the uptick in pneumonia cases they said they had not been caused by a new respiratory illness.

And there have been no reported deaths in the area.

The statement said: “While the number of cases is higher this year, the severity is similar to previous years.

“Most cases recover at home and are treated with antibiotics.”

To protect yourself against the illness, the health district advised hand washing, covering your cough, staying home when ill and keeping up to date with your vaccines.

They added: “It is not uncommon for respiratory illnesses to spread in the community during this
time of year. Following these basic precautions will help protect you and your family.”

Doctors in Massachusetts have also noted an increase in pneumonia cases, although the New York Post reported these were mainly linked to RSV.

Symptoms of pneumonia could be mistaken for those of flu or Covid.

However, there are some distinguishing signs, such as a cough being accompanied by yellow or green mucus.

The NHS lists symptoms of pneumonia as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A high temperature
  • Chest pain
  • An aching body
  • Feeling very tired
  • Loss of appetite
  • Making wheezing noises when you breathe – babies may also make grunting noises
  • Feeling confused – this is common in older people.

You should ask for an urgent GP appointment if:

  • You’ve had a cough for three weeks or more
  • You’re coughing up blood
  • You have chest pain that comes and goes, or happens when breathing or coughing
  • You’re feeling short of breath.

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