PARTS of Europe and Asia are witnessing a surge in cases of pneumonia, following an outbreak of the illness in China.
Sweden and Switzerland are the latest in a string of European countries to report a rise in the respiratory illness, which has particularly affected children.
The fast spread of Covid-19 in 2020 prompted strict public health restrictions, such as global and national lockdowns, which experts believe could be behind the surge.
As many as 145 people in Sweden have been sickened by mycoplasma pneumonia, a bacterium that infects the lungs, from April through September, according to a study published in the Lancet last week.
The same report revealed that Switzerland had seen 132 cases of the condition, sometimes called ‘white lung disease’ because of how lung damage appears on scans.
It comes just as Denmark and the Netherlands noted an uptick in cases of pneumonia.
There were 541 cases of mycoplasma pneumonia in the week ending November 26, according to the Statens Serum Institut (SSI), a Copenhagen-based research group that’s part of the Danish Ministry of Health.
However, Hanne-Dorthe Emborg, an SSI researcher, said the rise in cases was expected, as immunity against the bugs dropped across populations during Covid lockdowns.
Fewer social interactions during the pandemic meant the bacterium had few opportunities to spread in recent years.
Now more people are mixing again, the bugs can spread more easily.
She said: “For the past four years, the number of mycoplasma infections has been extremely low, and it is not unusual that we have an epidemic now.”
Countries traditionally have upticks in mycoplasma pneumonia every few years, so some outbreaks may be part of the seasonal ebb and flow of respiratory illnesses.
Hanne-Dorthe, added: “We have actually been waiting for it since we closed the country after the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Meanwhile, the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL), reported that in the past week, 80 out of every 100,000 children between ages five and 14 came down with pneumonia.
It is the country’s largest pneumonia outbreak in several years, higher than the peak of flu season in 2022, when 60 pneumonia cases were recorded for every 100,000 children in the same age group.
Meanwhile, an Ohio county in the US, reported a pediatric outbreak of pneumonia.
On Thursday, the Warren County Health District said it has had an unusually high number of pediatric pneumonia cases this autumn: 145 since August.
In a joint statement, health commissioner Duane Stansbury, and Doctor Clint Koenig, of Ohio Health Riverside Methodist Hospital, said: “We do not think this is a new respiratory disease but rather a large uptick in the number of pneumonia cases normally seen at one time.”
The Lancet study also reported that Singapore had seen 172 cases of the bug.
Countries put on alert
The rise in cases has sparked fears other countries, including the UK, could be impacted over Christmas.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it is “closely monitoring” the situation.
Professor Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive, said: “We need to keep an open mind about the cause of any increased reporting of clusters of disease, including of this illness in Chinese children.
“UKHSA is closely monitoring the situation and will continue to work with international partners to assess the emerging information as it becomes available.”
It’s also spurred several other countries, like Taiwan, India, Nepal, Vietnam and Indonesia, to take preventive measures.
This includes assessing their public health systems and ensuring a supply of personal protective equipment and medication.
The WHO officially requested “detailed” information last week as cases continued to rise.
ProMed – a system that monitors global disease outbreaks and was one of the first groups to identify the dangers of coronavirus – issued a warning on November 22.
Pneumonia is typically caused by a bacterial or viral infection and gets better within two weeks.
The bug can cause some people can become very unwell, especially the over 65s, babies or young children and those with lung conditions.
The surge mirrors events unfolding in China, where an unspecified virus is infecting hundreds of children.
Hospitals in Beijing are overflowing with youngsters lying on floors while hooked up to IVs after showing symptoms such as inflammation in the lungs and a high fever but no cough.
What is pneumonia and what are the symptoms?
PNEUMONIA is inflammation of the lungs, usually caused by an infection.
This includes Covid, flu and RSV.
The most common symptoms include:
- A cough – you may cough up yellow or green mucus (phlegm)
- Shortness of breath
- A high temperature
- Chest pain
- An aching body
- Feeling very tired
- Loss of appetite
- Making wheezing noises when you breathe – babies may also make grunting noises
- Feeling confused – this is common in older people
Most people get better in two to four weeks, but babies, older people, and those with heart or lung conditions are at risk of becoming seriously ill and requiring hospital treatment.
If you have pneumonia, you should:
- Rest until you feel better
- Avoid contact with other people
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to provide pain relief or a fever
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough
- Dispose of used tissues quickly
- Wash your hands regularly with water and soap