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Monday, December 18, 2023

Now it’s Pneumonia?!

Posted By: Advancing Care

Medically reviewed by Sankaran Krishnan, MD

A surge in pediatric pneumonia cases connected to the bacteria mycoplasma pneumoniae has been reported in China, Denmark, France and the Netherlands. In the U.S., a similar increase in cases has hit portions of the Midwest.

While this might bring back memories of the initial phases of COVID-19, infectious disease experts stress that this doesn't signify the beginning of another nationwide pandemic. In fact, this is evidence of a cyclical trend, as mycoplasma infections tend to cause pneumonia outbreaks every one to three years.

Here’s what you need to know about the recent wave of pneumonia cases:

Girl coughing in front of Christmas tree

  • Walking pneumonia variants: Dubbed “walking pneumonia,” the infection typically causes mild symptoms, but some countries are seeing an increase in more serious cases.
  • Immunity debt among children: Amid COVID-19 lockdowns, children were protected from typical infections, resulting in what scientists term an “immunity debt” and potentially paving the way for more severe infections.
  • No connection to “white lung” syndrome: Some U.S. news outlets have reported on a "white lung" pneumonia syndrome in Ohio's Warren County, suggesting a link to the Chinese pneumonia outbreak. However, medical experts assert that "white lung" syndrome, indicated by its appearance on X-rays, is unrelated to the situation in China. “White lung" syndrome is not a novel pathogen — it’s treatable with antibiotics and the majority of patients do not end up in the hospital.
  • Pattern of pneumonia cases among children: The weekly percentage of emergency department visits among children aged 0 to 4 years with diagnosed pneumonia shows a pattern consistent with previous years. Slight increases are noted for children aged 5 to 17 years, but they remain in alignment with pre-pandemic levels.
  • Respiratory illness season factors: These increases are likely attributed to the viruses and bacteria typically present during the respiratory illness season.

What You Need to Know

The bottom line? According to a representative from the CDC, experts are not seeing anything atypical in terms of pneumonia-related emergency department visits at this time. But with the respiratory illness season in full swing, it’s important to do everything you can to safeguard your and your family’s health. This includes:

  • Getting the appropriate immunizations: Immunizations are now available to tackle three key fall and winter viral respiratory diseases—flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)—which are all potential causes of pneumonia.
  • Testing: Testing for conditions such as COVID-19 and the flu at the onset of symptoms is important, as it allows you to seek treatment early and act to protect the broader community. Some tests may be conducted at home, while others that screen for illnesses caused by bacteria must be conducted by a healthcare provider.
  • Seeking treatment: If your symptoms are not abating, see your healthcare provider for treatment. Treating flu and COVID-19 involves antiviral medications, while bacterial respiratory diseases like mycoplasma pneumoniae infection, pneumococcal disease and whooping cough are treated with antibiotics.

Wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, handwashing and ventilating your living and working spaces can provide additional layers of protection. Ultimately, parents and healthcare providers should remain aware, but not alarmed, about the potential for increased mycoplasma infections this year.

If your child is experiencing worrisome symptoms, consult your child’s pediatrician or consider bringing your child to the nearest emergency department. WMCHealth has dedicated pediatric emergency departments at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital and MidHudson Regional Hospital.