The United States and China are both dealing with outbreaks of pneumonia among children, but the causes and responses are different in each country. While the US is facing a surge of Covid-19 cases among unvaccinated children, China is struggling to contain a wave of respiratory infections caused by known pathogens, such as mycoplasma pneumoniae, RSV, adenovirus, and influenza.
In the US, the state of Ohio has reported a 40% increase in hospitalizations for children with Covid-19 in the past month, compared to the previous month. The majority of these children are under 12 years old, and are not eligible for vaccination yet.
Dr. Patty Manning, the director of infection control at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said that the Delta variant of the coronavirus is more contagious and more likely to cause severe illness in children than previous strains. She urged parents to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible, and to follow preventive measures such as wearing masks and social distancing.
In China, the situation is different. The country has largely controlled the spread of Covid-19, but has seen a spike in cases of pneumonia caused by other respiratory pathogens, especially among children. The outbreak, which started in mid-October, has overwhelmed some hospitals in northern China, where patients have to wait for hours to see a doctor.
Chinese health authorities have attributed the increase in respiratory illnesses to the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions and the circulation of known pathogens, including mycoplasma pneumoniae, a common bacterial infection in children that can cause mild symptoms similar to colds, but can also lead to complications such as rash, meningitis, and hemolytic anemia.
Some experts have suggested that the surge in pneumonia cases in China is due to an “immunity gap” in children, who have not been exposed to common respiratory viruses for a long time due to the strict lockdown measures adopted by China to prevent Covid-19.
Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a leading respiratory expert in China, said that children need to be exposed to some pathogens to build up their immunity, and that the lack of exposure could make them more susceptible to infections. He recommended that children should wear masks, wash their hands frequently, and avoid crowded places to prevent the spread of pneumonia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has asked China for more data on the respiratory illnesses spreading in the north of the country, and has ruled out the possibility of novel pathogens or variants of Covid-19 being involved.
The WHO also said that it is not unusual to see seasonal increases in respiratory infections in winter, and that it is monitoring the situation closely. The WHO advised parents to seek medical attention for their children if they have symptoms such as fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, and to follow the guidance of local health authorities.