Doctors in Massachusetts and Ohio are reporting ‘extremely high’ numbers of children suffering from pneumonia — amid a mystery wave of infections in China and Europe.
Dr John Kelley, in western Massachusetts, warned more children were coming to his clinic with ‘walking pneumonia’ — as well as ‘a whole lot of’ youngsters with coughs, runny noses and fevers.
Health officials in Warren County, Ohio, just 30 miles outside Cincinnati, say there have been 142 pediatric cases of the condition — dubbed ‘white lung syndrome’ — since August.
‘Not only is this above the county average, it also meets the Ohio Department of Health definition of an outbreak,’ the county’s health department said Wednesday.
The spread of cases has raised fears that an American outbreak of the infection that has overwhelmed hospitals China could hit this winter. Several European countries are battling similar crises.
But a source at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that, nationally, ‘nothing is out of the ordinary’.
An ‘ongoing investigation’ is underway in Ohio into what is triggering the wave of illness, but officials do not think it is a new respiratory disease — and instead blame a mixture of several common infections all hitting at once.
Health officials in Warren County, Ohio, are reporting an ‘extremely high’ number of children are being diagnosed with pneumonia. The above image is from a previous outbreak of infectious diseases affecting US hospitals
The above shows a pediatric hospital in California in January 2021, when hospitals in the US were hit by a wave of sick children
The above graph shows deaths from pneumonia and flu among children aged under 18 years old since the 2019 to 2020 flu season. It shows that despite reports the current season nationwide is ‘not out of the ordinary’
The above image pictures the lungs during ‘white lung syndrome’ or acute respiratory distress syndrome, which is diagnosed via the white spots or opaque areas appearing in the lungs. The above patient was a 57-year-old man who was infected with the flu and had non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, or a cancer of the white blood cells, back in 2014
‘Walking pneumonia’ is a milder form of the disease where patients have a lower fever and cough that does not cause phlegm.
Dr Kelley, from Redwood Pediatrics in East Longmeadow, told Western Mass News: ‘This is the season for RSV and we’re seeing a whole lot of it… a lot of kids with upper viral respiratory infections, cough, runny nose, some fevers and the thinking with RSV is that it can cause lower viral respiratory infections, so they get spread to your lungs.’
He said 80 percent of the kids with walking pneumonia develop the infection as a result of first having RSV, while the remaining 20 percent of the cases are usually attributed to bacteria, which can be treated with antibiotics.
In Ohio, patients so far have tested positive for mycoplasma pneumoniae, a bacterial lung infection for which some antibiotics are useless, strep, and adenovirus, a normally benign respiratory infections.
The average age of patients is eight, though some are as young as three.
There are several theories, one of which is that children’s immunity has been weakened by lockdowns, mask-wearing and school closures during the pandemic — leaving them more vulnerable to seasonal illnesses.
Bacterial respiratory infections usually flare up every few years, normally as people are recovering from a wave of flu or other viral illnesses.
Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections tend to peak every three to seven years, the CDC says, with the illness having not peaked since the Covid pandemic hit in 2020.
Most infections are mild, doctors say, but those who have recently recovered from a respiratory infection are at higher risk.
In a release from the Warren County Health District, officials said: ‘We do not think this is a novel/new respiratory disease, but rather a large uptick in the number of pneumonia cases normally seen at one time.’
It added: ‘As we approach the holiday season, when many of us will be gathering together with family and friends, please remember to take necessary precautions to protect your health.
‘Wash your hands, cover your cough, stay home when ill and stay up to date on vaccines.’
Doctors say patients are mostly suffering from a fever, cough and fatigue.
It is unclear if any deaths have resulted from the illness and officials have not responded to requests for more information.
Pictured above is Dr Clint Koenig, who warned that hospitalizations in Warren County, Ohio, have been rising over the last few week
Dr John Kelley, from Redwood Pediatrics in western Massachusetts, said they were seeing a spike in pediatric hospitalizations in their area
Children and their parents wait at an outpatient area in a children’s hospital in Beijing as the city’s hospitals are overwhelmed with cases of a new virus. There are fears the disease may also have reached the US
Footage has emerged of workers in Hazmat suits spraying classrooms allegedly in the city of Sanhe, about 40 miles east of Beijing. It was posted by activists based in New York who said the footage was recent
Pictured above are more snippets from the footage, including a worker being filmed spraying disinfectant inside a classroom
In Ohio, the county was first alerted to the spike after schools said they were recording more children off sick than normal.
The 142 cases were reported to the county from multiple school districts across their area. There are 12 school districts in Warren County, Ohio.
A spokeswoman for the county health department said this was the first year they had recorded a pneumonia outbreak.
She added that other indicators were showing ‘typical resporatory pathogen [spread] for this time of year’.
A spokeswoman for the Ohio Health Department added that statewide they were not recording ‘unusual numbers of respiratory disease outbreaks for this time of year’.
CDC data also shows pneumonia fatalities are not surging out of the ordinary for this time of year nationwide.
Data on deaths from pneumonia and the flu among children and teenagers which they record shows the figures are at typical levels for this time of year.
CDC director Dr Mandy Cohen pictured testifying today on Capitol Hill
Speaking to local reporters, Warren County’s medical director Dr Clint Koenig said: ‘We have seen hospitalizations [for child pneumonia] tick up in the last couple of weeks so we do ask parents to be vigilant.
‘Our school districts have called in starting roughly in August, but really picking up in mid to late October.
‘We’ve also been noticing a lot of cases of kids being absent and the resulting diagnosis being pneumonia.’
A source at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said their data showed childhood pneumonia levels in other states were following ‘seasonal trends’.
‘Nothing is flagging out of the ordinary, but we are continuing to monitor,’ they said.
Mycoplasma pneumoniae normally causes a mild flu-like illness, sometimes called ‘walking pneumonia’. Cases are most common in younger children.
Some antibiotics, such as penicillin, have no effect.
Strep also normally causes a mild illness and tends to leave patients with sore throats. It’s more common among those aged five to 15 years old.
And adenovirus, which has also been detected in patients, causes symptoms similar to the common cold.
It was thought to be one of the viruses driving a spike in childhood hepatitis cases last year in children in the US.
Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert from Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, told: ‘I would caution against extrapolating one Ohio county to a country of 330million people.’
But he would not be entirely surprised if ‘some places in the US are above baseline’ this year — ‘but I don’t think it will be everywhere in the United States’.
Dr Amesh Adalja, from Johns Hopkins University, cautioned it was important not to attach too much to just one outbreak in Ohio. Dr Scott Roberts, from Yale, said this may be another sign that children still have weaker immunity than before the pandemic
Dr Adalja believes the pneumonia outbreaks cropping up around the world could be due to the ‘cyclical’ nature of mycoplasma.
‘Mycoplasma goes through epidemic cycles every few years and that may be what’s occurring globally at the moment.’
He said China may be getting hit by a double-whammy of viral and bacterial infections.
China is entering its first winter without pandemic restrictions, and is reporting surges in Covid, flu and RSV as well as mycoplasma.
The US, Canada and Europe — where restrictions were lifted earlier — were hit by massive upswings in those viruses last year.
‘So what’s happening in China makes sense’, Dr Adalja said, adding: ‘Last year we were dominated by so much Covid, flu and RSV when we opened up.’
He said he thinks this year’s winter outbreak will be ‘less severe’ that last year’s, when thousands of children were hospitalized with RSV and flu.
But Dr Adalja admitted that lockdowns have contributed to the emerging global phenomenon.
‘When children are born they haven’t experienced any infectious diseases so more of them you have in population so lower threshold for outbreak to start.
‘That group of children born provide new people for illnesses. The pandemic allowed the number of these susceptible people to build up over years.’
Dr Scott Roberts, an infectious diseases expert at Yale School of Medicine, Connecticut, said the uptick in cases was likely still being driven by weakened immunity in children.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘This is probably a recurrence of known pathogens that are hitting us a bit harder because of low immunity to them.’
He suggested children’s immune systems could still be suffering from the effects of Covid restrictions which blocked their exposure to ‘good germs’ for building immunity. He also pointed out that immunity wanes over time.
It comes after the Netherlands and Denmark also said they were recording mysterious spikes in pneumonia cases, many of which are being attributed in part to mycoplasma.
CDC director Dr Mandy Cohen said while testifying on Capitol Hill today that the uptick in respiratory illnesses in China was not down to a novel pathogen.
Dr Cohen told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee: ‘We do not believe this is a new or novel pathogen.
‘We believe this is all existing [pathogens] — meaning Covid, flu, RSV, mycoplasma. But they are seeing an upsurgence.
The CDC has been coming under pressure to reveal everything it knows about the China pneumonia outbreak, with members of Congress sending a letter to the agency yesterday.
Addressed to Dr Cohen, they said: ‘If the CDC is to regain credibility with the American people, it must be transparent and forthcoming with the information it has on public helth threats facing our nation.’
China has been recording a surge in childhood cases of pneumonia since May which only came to light last month after it was reported in Taiwan.
Health officials reported the cases to ProMED — the same system where Covid was first reported — saying there was a mystery pneumonia in the country.
Thousands of children are reported to have been taken to hospitals while sick in north and eastern areas of the country including Beijing, Shanghai and the province of Liaoning.
Chinese officials have insisted the wave of infections is not being caused by a new disease but instead is the country’s ‘exit wave’ from the pandemic.
Lockdowns weakened the immunity of children because they were not exposed to the normal ‘good’ germs required for building a strong immune system.