John Campbell, Ph.D. this week explained what’s known so far about the surge in pneumonia affecting children in China, and why it likely isn’t a new pandemic but possibly may indicate the presence of an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection.
Reports of a “mystery wave of pneumonia” circulating among children in China have some people wondering if there’s a new pandemic afoot, internet lecturer John Campbell, Ph.D. said in a recent YouTube video.
“The short answer appears to be no,” said Campbell, a former emergency room nurse and teacher. However, a survey of the available information indicates there are “some strange things that are happening that don’t quite make sense.”
Campbell cited questions regarding what is causing the respiratory infections surge and whether the symptoms are typical.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization (WHO) have reported an upsurge in respiratory infections among children in northern China. China reported that 3,500 children were admitted to the hospital in October and November. The Beijing Friendship Hospital pediatrics department on Nov. 11 told Radio Free Asia the department was fielding about 1,000 calls a day requesting emergency treatment.
Campbell said there are clearly clusters of pneumonia that need an explanation.
Given how long and intensely China was locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic, a certain number of rebound respiratory infections are expected among children who, because they were isolated during lockdown and not exposed to the typical number of pathogens, experience a “community immunity debt.”
That led Chinese authorities and the WHO to conclude the respiratory illnesses are normal.
But according to Campbell, there are some unusual in this surge, including that for the first time, China is reporting the presence of Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Mycoplasma is an unusual form of simple, small bacteria that can cause atypical pneumonia in some children and adults.
Local reports suggest this type of pneumonia is manifesting as inflammation in the lungs and a high fever, but with no cough. The lack of cough is inconsistent with pneumonia or mycoplasmic infection, Campbell said.
Pneumonia normally occurs in only 5-10% of people with a myoplasmic infection, but the glut of pneumonia occurring indicates the infection is causing it at higher rates or that the myoplasmic bacterial infection is incredibly common, he added.
The WHO has requested lab results and data trends related to this from Chinese health authorities.
“One thing that really concerned me here was the World Health Organization said they did this under the terms of the International Health Regulations (IHR), which of course we know they’re in the process of trying to amend to make them really even stronger,” Campbell said.
He added that China adheres 100% to the IHR and that whatever China has said, the Who “just seems to have regurgitated.”
China has said the increase in hospitalizations is due to known pathogens, which would be things like adenovirus influenza, and influenza, but Chinese health officials also added mycoplasma pneumonia.
But, he said, the Messenger reported that ”Chinese medical statistics remain deeply unreliable.” For example, China maintains a total COVID-19 death count of 120,000 nationwide, but independent estimates say it is closer to 2 million from COVID-19 or associated restrictions.
It is concerning that the WHO is simply echoing whatever the Chinese health authorities, Campbell said. “Should we expect more interrogation and rigor from the World Health Organization?”
Chinese officials also attributed some of the spike in infections to increased surveillance because since mid-October, they have been conducting enhanced surveillance and testing.
While that might contribute some, Campbell said, the surge is large. There have also been surges of respiratory viruses and influenza in the U.K and U.S.
Mycoplasma does affect the lungs, he said, but typically it causes walking pneumonia, a form of pneumonia that usually responds to antibiotics and does not require hospitalization.
“Now is there going to be another pandemic?” He asked. “I think the answer to that is no.”
With mycoplasma, he said, slow household spread is common and it is typically a disease of young people. It does occur in outbreaks, he said, but it is not particularly seasonal.
There is some inconsistency with the seasonality, and outbreaks are expected, although this outbreak seems larger than is typically expected.
Bacterial pneumonia can often occur after a viral infection, he said, so one question to ask is, “s there a common virus here that’s predisposing people to bacterial infections? Could this be a novel virus?”
He said there is not enough data to tell, but people are usually more susceptible to such infections after a virus, so that is a possibility, but there is no evidence for a novel virus or bacterial infection.
“What we’re probably dealing with here is potentially dangerous micoplasma antibiotic-resistance,” Campbell said.
Studies from Beijing show that the bacterial resistance to myoplasmic pneumonia in Beijing is between 70-90%, he said and typically mycoplasma infections are treated with antibiotics.
Children who are sick could be infected with an antibiotic-resistant strain. If that were to spread globally, he said, the main danger is that people would have difficulty treating it.
Even if it were multiple-drug-resistant mycoplasma, he said, it doesn’t change the transmission characteristics or pathogenicity of the bacterium. If it isn’t easily treated with antibiotics, he said, there will be more of it around, which means greater potential for more spread.
“Why the Chinese authorities and the World Health Organization wouldn’t want to discuss something as straightforward as bacterial resistance is difficult to know but there is a culture of secrecy in certain authorities in China so it’s not that surprising really.”
“It’s a pity” he said, that in its press release, the WHO doesn’t talk about optimizing the immune system with nutrition, vitamin D, sleep and exercise. Instead it talks about mask-wearing and isolation, which, he said, “didn’t work very well during the COVID pandemic, did it?”
“We can no longer fully depend on antibiotics the way we once could,” Campbell. “Perhaps we need to be looking at ways of upgrading the immune system so that if people get this infection it is less serious for them to suffer from.”