Mystery Disease Outbreak in Children Alarms China

BEIJING, CHINA – An unexplained surge of pneumonia cases in children is causing concern in China, with hospitals in several cities, including Beijing, reportedly struggling to cope. The information comes from a late Tuesday alert by ProMed, a global disease surveillance system.

Based on a report from Taiwanese news outlet FTV News, the alert indicates a significant increase in children presenting with symptoms such as high fever and pulmonary nodules. However, the typical cough associated with pneumonia is absent.

The ProMed editor’s note suggests that the disease is spreading rapidly among children, but the exact start of the outbreak remains unknown. The report does not mention any adult cases, hinting at possible school exposure.

The cause of the outbreak is still undetermined, but it is speculated to be linked to Mycoplasma pneumoniae, or “walking pneumonia.” This disease has recently surged in China as it experiences its first winter without Covid-19 lockdown measures.

Walking pneumonia primarily affects young children and can cause symptoms such as a sore throat, fatigue, and a persistent cough. In severe cases, it can progress to pneumonia. Hospitals nationwide have reported increased such infections, often clustering in schools and nurseries.

Zhou Huixia, director of the Children’s Medical Center at the Seventh Medical Center of the Chinese PLA General Hospital, told China Daily that this is the first wave of mycoplasma pneumonia infections since most COVID-19 containment measures were lifted earlier this year. She expects the wave to peak in November, possibly coinciding with a rise in other infectious respiratory diseases suppressed during lockdowns.

The outbreak has also raised concerns about growing antibiotic resistance. A recent study found that over 80% of mycoplasma pneumonia in children hospitalized with the bacteria in China showed resistance to macrolides, a preferred drug class.

Despite the severity of the outbreak, Chinese experts have reported very few deaths from “walking pneumonia” to date.