Should we be worried about the pneumonia epidemic in China?This is what experts say

Increased reports of similar illnesses pneumonia This mainly affects children in northern china They caught our attention. The last time we heard about a mysterious respiratory illness outbreak that was overwhelming hospitals was early in the pandemic. Coronavirus diseaseso it’s not entirely surprising that it caused some consternation.

November 22, World Health Organization (WHO) The requested information comes from China About this increase. Chinese health authorities have since said the outbreak was caused by multiple respiratory pathogens.

So which pathogens may be causing an increase in respiratory illnesses? Should we worry about any virus having pandemic potential? We’ll see.


One of these is the mycoplasma bacterium, which has been causing outbreaks of respiratory illnesses. China Starting in June this year.

Mycoplasma is usually treated in the community with antibiotics, and hospitalization is uncommon. It can cause a phenomenon called “walking pneumonia,” in which a chest X-ray looks much more severe than the patient’s condition.

However, in Taiwan, reports suggest that mycoplasma is highly resistant to antibiotics, which may explain why it leads to more hospitalizations.


During the first two years of the pandemic, levels of influenza viruses dropped to very low levels. Coronavirus Because of masks, physical distancing and other measures. But once things start to return to “normal,” flu infections tend to rebound.

Influenza is more severe in children under five and the elderly, so it can result in children being hospitalized.

RSV and adenovirus

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can also have serious effects on children and, like influenza, all but disappeared during the first two years of the pandemic. But now it’s widely circulated.

According to reports, adenovirus can cause a variety of syndromes, including gastroenteritis and influenza-like illness, and is also one of the causes of the current epidemic in China. There were reports of children vomiting and photos of children receiving intravenous fluids, possibly due to dehydration due to gastroenteritis.

The role of coronavirus

SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) may also cause pneumonia, but fewer children. We knew early on in the pandemic that SARS-CoV-2 could show pneumonia on chest scans in asymptomatic children, so the virus could also cause “walking pneumonia” in children.

SARS-CoV-2 kills more children than the flu, so it could overwhelm hospitals.

Some studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infection may also lead to immune dysfunction, which may explain the unexpected increase in other infections since the pandemic, including strep and mycoplasma infections.


People can be infected with SARS-CoV-2 and other bacteria or viruses at the same time, which may also explain the severity of the current epidemic. Co-infection with SARS-CoV-2 and mycoplasma is very common and can lead to more severe complications, a study suggests.

Could this be a new epidemic?

The chart below shows reports of influenza-like illness outbreaks and pneumonia Not specified, and known causes of influenza A and B, SARS-CoV-2, RSV, pertussis, adenovirus, and mycoplasma.Confirmed increase in respiratory illnesses this year China Compared with the same period last year.

In contrast, doing the same comparison globally, the incidence rate this year is down compared to last year, which tells us that China has more people with respiratory illnesses than expected.

If no known cause for this increase is identified, that would cause us further concern. But a few viruses have been discovered that lead us to believe we are not dealing with a new virus.

The viruses with pandemic potential that worry us most are Avian Influenzait can mutate and spread easily among humans. China It used to be the epicenter of bird flu, but the spread of H5N1 has moved to the Americas, Europe and Africa.

Despite this, China has reported multiple cases of human infection with various avian influenza viruses this year, including H3N8, H5N1, H5N6 and H9N2. As large-scale outbreaks in birds and mammals continue, there is a greater likelihood that avian and human influenza genetic material will mutate and mix, which could result in a new influenza virus. pandemic influenza.

The threat from new viruses is increasing, and pandemic potential is greatest for viruses that spread through the respiratory tract and are severe enough to cause pneumonia.There is no indication that the current situation China become one new epidemicbut we must always identify and pay attention to the following groups pneumonia Not diagnosed. Early warning systems give us the best chance of preventing the next pandemic.

*To read the original notes published in The Conversation, click here.

*Authors: Raina MacIntyre, Professor and Principal Investigator, Global Biosecurity, NHMRC; Ashley Quigley, Senior Research Fellow; Haley Piedra, PhD Student; Rebecca Dawson, Associate Research Fellow.

*The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.

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