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

Respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia, are on the rise in the United States and other countries.
What is 'white lung' pneumonia and why are officials discussing it?
Posted at 3:45 PM, Dec 04, 2023

As we enter the time of year when more illnesses start to circulate, pneumonia in kids is causing some concern.

“We’re slowly seeing more cases of pneumonia coming to the hospital, which suggests severity,” said Dr. Ibukun Kalu, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Duke University.

She said reports from the Midwest and the South are showing increased clusters of infection with respiratory viruses.

The localized outbreaks of pneumonia are impacting kids.

“In some locations they've seen a spike in bacterial infections, and that's what you may have seen referred to as an outbreak of pneumonia,” she said.

Some officials are referring to the illness seen in these outbreaks as “white lung” pneumonia.

“The cluster of infections we’ve seen that are caused by what we presume to be a bacterial infection, seemed to be caused by the bacteria called mycoplasma,” Dr. Kalu explained.

“It looks like this spotty white appearance and it’s got it all over. It used to be called walking pneumonia, it was common in teenagers and college students. And now, that pattern, of the spotty white appearance in the X-ray, has maybe led to this term that’s used to describe it. I should add, this bacteria is not new,” she said.

SEE MORE: COVID-19 continues to lead seasonal respiratory illnesses, CDC says

Other countries, like China, are seeing similar outbreaks. But experts say that’s not linked to what’s happening in the United States.

“What we know as of right now, today, of what's happening in China, they are having an increase in some of their respiratory illness. They're seeing it in the northern part of their country, they're seeing an uptick in their pediatric population. What we do know as of, again, as of today, we do not believe this is a new or novel pathogen,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Thursday.

The Warren County Health District in Ohio, for example, announced a rise in pediatric pneumonia cases in November, but clarified there is currently no evidence it was connected to other outbreaks elsewhere.

“New data might come up and that might adjust our thinking, but what we’re seeing so far has been a somewhat expected increase in respiratory viruses and also bacterial infections,” Dr. Kalu said.

“There is a seasonal variation in pediatric pneumonia, and this has occurred even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are a little bit more sensitive to spikes in infections after the pandemic,” she said.

Parents should watch for symptoms like cough, fever, and fatigue and reach out to a doctor if they are concerned.

Dr. Kalu said it’s important to keep kids up to date on vaccines.

@scrippsnews Health officials are seeing a rise in respiratory illnesses in different parts of the country, including pediatric #pneumonia. Here's what you should know. #health ♬ original sound - Scripps News

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