Mystery China pneumonia outbreak may overwhelm European country’s health system

Pneumonia cases are shooting up in one European country as China battles an outbreak of a mystery illness – both of which are suspected to be linked. In the Netherlands, 80 out of every 100,000 children aged between five and 15 were treated for the condition last week.

That’s according to the its Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL), representing the biggest outbreak in years. The height of flu season in 2022 saw cases reach only 60 in every 100,000 children.

There is yet to be any explanation for this current surge in cases – although there are concerns it may be connected with a similar illness currently sweeping China.

Most of China’s strict pandemic restrictions were lifted at the end of 2022 after officials decided to keep restrictions in place far longer than the West. This mystery wave is effectively the first post-Covid flu season the country has seen.

Both The World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese health officials have said that “no new or unusual pathogens” had been found in the pneumonia cases.

READ MORE Expert warns Europe to prepare for worst-case scenario over China outbreak

They are pinning the increase in cases on children contracting known viruses like the flu, rhinoviruses, the respiratory syncytial virus, and the adenovirus. These are illnesses which they largely avoided during the two years of Covid-19 lockdowns.

The population’s immunity may have been weakened throughout lockdown, health officials have said – but this may not apply to the Netherlands, where tight socialisation restrictions were lifted months beforehand.

Dr Joseph Ambani, an expert in infectious diseases, said not enough is currently known about the “worrying” respiratory illness, but Europe’s healthcare systems need to be preparing for the worst.

He told Daily Express US: “[Understanding] whether it’s a novel strain or a mutation of an existing virus is critical. This knowledge shapes our predictions about its spread and virulence. If it’s a novel virus, we’re venturing into the unknown, with potential for both higher virulence and a lack of immunity in the population.”

Health expert Dr Veronika Matutyte told Daily Express US she believes London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam “may be the first European points of entry for the illness”.

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In China, terrifying footage has shown families rushing their children to hospital in droves, overwhelming health care providers. Hospitals in Beijing and other parts of China’s north have been overrun with people and sick children, images coming from them suggest.

In a rare move, the WHO publicly asked Chinese authorities to provide data on any outbreaks of pneumonia. “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” the WHO’s Maria Van Kerkhove said.

“This is not an indication of a novel pathogen. This is expected. This is what most countries dealt with a year or two ago.” In terms of mitigating the impact of the virus on these European cities, Dr Matutyte said: “Prevention strategies must be dynamic and adaptable. Emphasising basic hygiene practices, like frequent hand washing and wearing masks in public spaces, remains fundamental.

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“In healthcare settings, stringent infection control measures are essential. Public health campaigns should focus on educating the populace about symptom recognition and seeking timely medical attention.”

Currently, China is saying that the respiratory illness is coming from bacterial infection, RSV, influenza and common cold viruses, but there is mounting concern that they are downplaying its severity.

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