Recent spikes in mysterious pediatric pneumonia cases in China and Europe have sparked new worries worldwide.
The first reports emerged last week, highlighting a surge in pneumonia cases among children in hospitals in Beijing and Liaoning, China.
Pneumonia, a common term for lung inflammation often caused by infections, has prompted Chinese health authorities to launch investigations into these mysterious cases.
In Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, an alarming increase in pediatric pneumonia cases has been reported.
Around 130 out of every 100,000 children aged 5 to 14 fell ill with pneumonia in the week ending 26 November. At its peak last year, there were 58 per 100,000 children.
The Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL) disclosed that this is the largest pneumonia outbreak recorded in recent years. Moreover, cases among children aged 4 and younger surged from 124 to 143.
Both NIVEL and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment couldn’t provide a clear explanation for the sudden increase in pneumonia cases.
Notably, COVID-related measures have long been lifted in the Netherlands, raising questions about the cause of this year’s spike.
Concerns have also been raised about China potentially concealing the early stages of an epidemic, reminiscent of its initial response to the discovery of COVID-19 four years ago.
The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized last week that China has linked the rise in hospitalizations since October to known pathogens such as adenovirus, influenza virus, SARS-CoV-2, and RSV.
However, there has been an increase in hospitalizations, particularly in northern cities like Beijing, since May, attributed to Mycoplasma pneumonia, a bacterium infecting the lungs.
In response, the WHO has requested information, including laboratory results and data on the respiratory disease’s spread in China. Nevertheless, China has not detected any new or unusual pathogens related to the recent spike in pneumonia cases, as reported by Reuters.
The rise in respiratory diseases coincides with China’s preparation for its first full winter without strict COVID-19 restrictions since the country lifted them in December of the previous year. Similar increases in respiratory illnesses have been observed in other countries following pandemic policy relaxations.
Epidemiologist Benjamin Cowling from the University of Hong Kong noted that this is a typical “winter surge” in acute respiratory infections, possibly due to increased vulnerability resulting from three years of COVID-19 measures.
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