A cluster of undiagnosed pneumonia in children was reported in northern China by the media and ProMED on 21 November. Chinese authorities have previously reported an increase in respiratory infections, but it is unclear whether these are related, according to WHO.

WHO, in a statement released on November 23, 2023, disclosed China's National Health Commission's (NHC) update on the increase in respiratory disease incidences addressed at a press conference on 13 November 2023. This increase was attributed to the lifting of restrictions on COVID-19 and the circulation of known pathogens like influenza, mycoplasma pneumoniae (a bacterial infection usually seen in children under the age of five), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). The health system needs to be strengthened to handle patients and enhance disease surveillance in healthcare facilities and communities.

WHO’s Initiative

Through the International Health Regulations mechanism, WHO requested additional epidemiologic and clinical information, as well as laboratory results from these reported clusters among children, as per WHO's official website.

Acting director of the WHO's Department of Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness and Prevention Maria Van Kerkhove, on November 28, said the increase was likely driven by a rise in children contracting pathogens that they had avoided during two years of COVID restrictions, as per a Reuters report.

"We asked about comparisons prior to the pandemic. And the waves that they’re seeing now, the peak is not as high as what they saw in 2018-2019," Van Kerkhove told health news outlet STAT in an interview, as quoted by Reuters.

"This is not an indication of a novel pathogen. This is expected. This is what most countries dealt with a year or two ago," she added, as quoted in the report.

What is Walking Pneumonia caused by Mycoplasma Pneumoniae?

Mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria commonly cause mild infections of the respiratory system (the parts of the body involved in breathing). Sometimes, these bacteria can cause more serious lung infections that require hospital care, according to the official website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In contrast to a severe form of pneumonia, walking pneumonia is mild. In pneumonia, the air sacs in your lungs fill with mucus and other fluids, your airways swell, and you cough up mucus.

"Walking pneumonia is a non-medical term for a mild case of pneumonia. A more medically correct term would be atypical pneumonia, and can be caused by certain molds, viruses or bacteria, often a common bacterium called Mycoplasma pneumonia," according to Lung.org.

“Walking pneumonia" is the common term for atypical pneumonia.

How does it spread?

Small respiratory droplets containing bacteria are usually formed when an infected person coughs or sneezes. If a healthy person breathes in those droplets, that person will end up getting infected, too.

It is uncommon for people to get infected when they spend a short period of time with someone who is sick with M. pneumoniae do not get infected. However, the bacteria is more likely to spread among the people living together as they spend more time together.

What are the common symptoms?

The symptoms of Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection in children younger than 5 years of age may differ from those in older children and adults. In contrast, they may experience the following cold-like symptoms, according to CDC include sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, watery eyes, wheezing, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Who is prone to infection?

Children, the elderly, and those with weakened lungs are especially susceptible to pneumonia caused by the bacteria. If someone is coughing, feverish, or having difficulty breathing, they should go to the doctor immediately. In the early stages, recovery is easier and takes less time. The infection is more likely to develop in a severe form in vulnerable groups who already have respiratory problems.

How to prevent?

WHO recommended people in China to follow measures to lower the risk of respiratory illness, which included vaccination, keeping adistance from people who are ill, staying home when ill, getting tested and medical care as needed, wearing masks as appropriate, ensuring good ventilation, and regular hand-washing.

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Updated: 29 Nov 2023, 01:23 PM IST

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