On December 7, 2023, how concerned should you be about outbreaks of „White-Lung-Syndrome“ pneumonia in children reported in Ohio, Massachusetts, and several European countries?
WebMD asked experts this question and inquired whether the cases are related to a similar outbreak in China, which symptoms are most common, and what advice they have for preventing infections in their families and containing further spread of this infection.
White lung pneumonia is not an official medical condition. It is a sign of pneumonia that presents as white areas on a lung X-ray and may require further testing to determine if the pneumonia is viral or bacterial, or caused by environmental pollution or chemicals.
We asked Vandana Madhavan, MD, MPH, an expert in pediatric infectious diseases at Mass General for Children in Boston, and William Schaffner, MD, an expert in infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, to share their thoughts on white lung pneumonia.
Q: How concerned should we be about the cases of „white lung pneumonia“ reported in Ohio, Massachusetts, and some European countries?
Madhavan: „We are seeing more respiratory infections circulating because it is December and we are in North America and the northern hemisphere. Is this a natural seasonal increase? It’s hard to say, but at the moment, we are not seeing concerning numbers for specific viruses or bacterial infections.“
Schaffner: „Similar things have been observed in Denmark, the Netherlands, and here in the United States. It is not surprising. These types of respiratory viruses and Mycoplasma bacteria that are circulating are very common. Some of them penetrate deeper into the chest and cause pneumonia.“
Q: What are the main symptoms and do they differ from other respiratory infections?
Schaffner: „There are symptoms that affect the upper airways, such as a stuffy nose, runny nose, sore throat, and cough, when the virus enters the bronchi. When the virus or bacteria enters the lung tissue, it can cause shortness of breath or produce a sudden expectoration that looks greenish or bloody. If any of these things happen, if you have difficulty breathing, if you develop high fever, you may well have pneumonia. Please consult your doctor immediately.“
Madhavan: „Pay attention to signs of dehydration. Especially younger children have less reserves and tend to dehydrate more quickly.“ Parents could place a humidifier in the child’s room or let them inhale steam while showering. Honey in a warm drink may be helpful for older children.
Q: Is there a connection to similar illnesses reported in China?
Schaffner: „There was a lot of uproar about white lung pneumonia. It began with a report in northern China that there was an increase in pneumonia. The Chinese have learned something since COVID – because everyone was afraid that we had seen this movie before. Chinese officials met with World Health Organization experts, where the Chinese Ministry of Health said there was no new virus. ‚This was nothing like COVID. Instead, it was an early, seasonal increase in respiratory infections, including pneumonia, caused by a variety of respiratory viruses in the winter.“
Q: How serious are the cases reported in the United States?
Schaffner: „There is a spectrum. Many people, children, and older people have milder respiratory infections that can be treated at home. But every year, we have to admit some children and some adults to the hospital because they suffer from pneumonia and breathing difficulties.“ Some may even need to be temporarily ventilated, he said. „The vast majority of people get better. That should be reassuring.“
Q: Are there any advice on measures parents can take to protect their children and prevent further spread of this disease?
Madhavan: „Wash hands, make sure your child doesn’t go out when sick – and ask if everyone is okay if you go to a party or holiday gathering.“ Wearing a mask in crowded public areas can also help, she said. „Also, ensure that your family is up to date on vaccinations against influenza, COVID, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).“
Schaffner: „I want to remind everyone that we have some vaccines available.“ Vaccines against flu, RSV, and COVID-19 are available for many, many people, he said. „Beyond vaccinations, we should try to be cautious and avoid people who cough and sneeze. The second thing, which is also problematic in some households, is not to send your child to daycare when someone is sick. You can simply pass it on to everyone else.“