As the world continues to grapple with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new health scare is emerging from China, where an unexplained pneumonia outbreak is causing alarm. Hospitals in Beijing and Liaoning province are reportedly overwhelmed with sick children, and the situation has become so dire that school classes are on the brink of suspension.
The first paragraph of our story begins with the harrowing scenes unfolding in Chinese hospitals. Medical facilities are inundated with pediatric cases, with emergency departments facing unprecedented wait times. A staff member at Beijing Friendship Hospital’s pediatrics department revealed a staggering 24-hour delay for emergency cases, with a backlog of calls from the previous day still unaddressed. The Children’s Hospital of Capital Institute of Pediatrics was forced to stop accepting new patients by one afternoon after 628 people were already queued for emergency care.
#Gravitas | Hospitals in China have been overwhelmed by a mysterious pneumonia outbreak.
The infection has reached several cities including Beijing.
— WION (@WIONews) November 23, 2023
In Liaoning Province, the situation is equally grim. Reports indicate that the lobbies of hospitals like Dalian Children’s Hospital are filled with sick children receiving intravenous treatments, and long lines of patients are a common sight. The overwhelming number of cases has led to the cancellation of some school classes, not only because students are falling ill but also because teachers are contracting pneumonia.
The mysterious illness presents with unusual symptoms, including high fevers and inflammation in the lungs, yet lacks the typical cough associated with pneumonia. This has led to speculation among experts about the nature of the disease. Some suspect it could be related to mycoplasma pneumoniae, also known as walking pneumonia, which has been on the rise in China following the lifting of strict COVID-19 lockdowns.
Reports from China say that the respiratory disease outbreak is causing hospitals to be overwhelmed and hospital staff are getting sick. Chinese authorities say it is a bacterial infection, Mycoplasma pneumonia. Other sources in China say it could be new strains of viruses. pic.twitter.com/Cc7DFI5TVi
— Dr. Lawrence Sellin (@LawrenceSellin) November 23, 2023
Dr. Krutika Kuppalli of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program emphasized the importance of testing and transparency in dealing with this outbreak. Meanwhile, Dr. Neil Stone, an infectious diseases specialist, expressed concern over the déjà vu of undiagnosed pneumonia reports from China, reminiscent of the early days of COVID-19.
The Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported over 3,500 cases of ‘respiratory infection’ admitted to the Beijing Children’s Hospital at the start of October. This surge in respiratory infections comes as the country enters its first winter without stringent pandemic restrictions, raising questions about the potential for a new epidemic.
Adding to the complexity, there is growing concern over antibiotic resistance. Mycoplasma pneumoniae is increasingly resistant to macrolides, the class of drugs typically used to treat such infections. A study found that macrolide resistance was observed in over 80 percent of mycoplasma pneumoniae cases in hospitalized children in China.
Despite the alarming number of cases, Dr. Hua Shaodong, a pediatrician at the Beijing Children’s Hospital, noted that while there is a steady number of severe cases, few are critical, and no related deaths have been reported so far. The average hospital stay for these patients ranges from seven to fourteen days.
The Beijing CDC’s deputy director and chief epidemiologist, Wang Quanyi, stated that influenza, adenovirus, and RSV are currently the top three respiratory infectious diseases affecting children. This outbreak’s timing and the initial lack of information recall the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was first signaled by a ProMed request for information post on December 30, 2019.
This recent outbreak underscores the need for vigilance and international cooperation in monitoring and responding to emerging health threats. As the world watches closely, the hope is that lessons learned from past outbreaks will lead to a swift and transparent response, preventing another global health crisis.