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Concerns growing over increase in childhood respiratory illnesses

Local health officials and the CDC say the uptick in the U.S. is not related to China’s pneumonia outbreak.
Concerns growing over increase in childhood respiratory illnesses
Posted at 3:38 PM, Dec 05, 2023

December can mean more visits to the doctor for whatever bug is going around. But public health officials in Warren County, Ohio, are warning the public after an outbreak of 145 cases of pneumonia in kids aged 3-14. There have been no deaths. 

While it’s normal to feel a little anxiety or deja vu, the outbreak is not novel like COVID-19, and for now it is not as widespread as last year's RSV surge.  Health experts say we should be aware, but we should not panic. 

Bacteria that cause mycoplasma pneumonia and viruses like adenovirus are showing up in lab tests. Local health officials and the CDC say this is not related to China’s pneumonia outbreak.  

"We do not believe this is a new or novel pathogen. We believe this is all existing, meaning COVID, flu, RSV and mycoplasma," said CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen.

Doctors want to curb any panic over "white lung" syndrome. It is not a medical term, or a new mystery sickness.  

"It can irritate the lungs before it actually triggers symptoms. By the time you get to imaging, the lungs are getting a chest X-ray, it looks like this spotty white appearance and it's got it all over," said Dr. Ibukun Kalu, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Duke University.

The mycoplasma pneumonia-causing bacteria comes around every few years, and the current uptick in cases could be a result of social distancing making people's immune systems more vulnerable. It's sometimes called walking pneumonia. Common symptoms are a cough with lots of phlegm, fatigue and a high fever.  

Those most at risk are "kids with asthma, underlying lung disease, underlying congenital heart disease, anything that makes them immunocompromised, if they have cancer or chemotherapy," said Dr. Juanita Mora, spokesperson for the American Lung Association. "The good news is we have good medications to treat it."

Typically, doctors can treat walking pneumonia with a course of azithromycin — you may know it as a Z-Pak. And there are antivirals for RSV, the flu and COVID-19. Doctors also say now it is the time for flu, COVID and RSV shots. All can prevent someone from having a more severe case should they get sick.

SEE MORE: What is 'white lung' pneumonia and why are officials discussing it?

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