An uptick of mycoplasma pneumonia cases in children has caused outbreaks in Ohio, Massachusetts, China and Denmark, though officials say they aren’t connected or linked to a “new or novel” virus.
The illness is caused by a bacteria called “mycoplasma pneumoniae,” and results in typically mild respiratory infections, though the illness can progress into a serious lung infection that calls for hospitalization, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mycoplasma pneumonia is sometimes dubbed “white lung pneumonia” due to white patches caused by the disease that present on the lungs during X-rays.
The Warren County Health District in Ohio released a statement Thursday indicating a pneumonia outbreak that began in August has affected at least 145 children between the ages of three and 14.
“Mycoplasma pneumoniae” was among the specimens at fault, along with “streptococcus pneumoniae” and adenovirus, which all cause pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses, the WCHD indicated in a separate statement released Wednesday.
The WCHD said the increase of pneumonia cases is not linked to a “new or novel” respiratory illness, but rather a spike in normal pediatric cases, and stated the outbreak isn’t related to any other outbreaks statewide, nationally or globally.
Massachusetts is also reporting an outbreak of pediatric “walking pneumonia” cases—which refers to mild pneumonia infection often caused by “mycoplasma pneumoniae”—as well as an uptick in other respiratory illnesses like respiratory syncytial virus.
Mycoplasma pneumonia has also been spreading in China and Denmark. Researchers from Denmark’s Statens Serum Institute have stated mycoplasma pneumonia infections have reached epidemic status in the country. The spike began during the summer, but quickly increased over the past five weeks. Over 540 cases were reported last week—triple the number of cases reported in mid-October. Chinese officials reported during a health conference in November there has been an uptick in respiratory illnesses since mid-October, according to the World Health Organization. However, they blamed this surge on the lifting of Covid restrictions and said it was linked to known illnesses, like Covid, RSV, the flu and mycoplasma pneumonia. WHO echoed China’s sentiments, saying though the surge is early in the typical flu season, it’s not unexpected due to the removal of Covid restrictions in the country. Republican lawmakers grilled CDC director Mandy Cohen on Thursday about China’s trustworthiness in reporting the surge in infections. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) likened the surge and the alleged lack of information from China to “a troubling parallel to 2020,” in reference to the early days of the Covid pandemic. Cohen said the rise in cases isn’t linked to a “new or novel” virus, but instead due to respiratory illnesses like mycoplasma pneumonia, an explanation in line with China and WHO.
Mycoplasma infection is most common in the fall and late summer, and though anyone can get infected, it mainly affects children and younger adults, according to the New York State Department of Health. Usual symptoms include sore throat, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, wheezing, headache, ear infection and chest soreness, a study published in StatPearls reports. Symptoms typically last for a few days but can stretch for more than a month, and they usually begin between two to three weeks following exposure. Though most infections are mild, they can lead to severe complications like lung abscess, respiratory failure, fluid buildup in the lungs and pus in the lungs. There are no vaccines to prevent mycoplasma infection, but it can be treated with antibiotics as it is a bacterial infection, unlike Covid and the flu.
Upsurge of respiratory illnesses among children-Northern China (The World Health Organization)