Now Denmark battles surge in same type of pneumonia sparking fears in China
- Danish health experts said they had were expecting this ‘epidemic’ for some time
- READ MORE: WHO demands more data from China on ‘white lung syndrome’
Denmark is currently being hit by its own wave of pneumonia, mirroring the same alarming outbreak that has rocked China.
Danish health chiefs have blamed mycoplasma pneumoniae, a bacterial infection of the respiratory system for which some antibiotics are useless.
Beijing has pointed to the same pathogen as being partly to blame for its own ‘mystery’ wave of pneumonia — characterised by a dangerous inflammation of the lungs — in children.
Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut (SSI) said 541 cases have been detected, more than triple the number five weeks ago. However, it noted that the figure is a massive underestimate as those with mild symptoms aren’t normally tested.
SSI, which fulfils a similar role to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said the data showed ‘widespread infection throughout the country’ and the outbreak has reached ‘epidemic’ status.
It comes just days after The Netherlands reported its own alarming pneumonia spike in children, with similar reports in Denmark’s neighbour Sweden.
A patient being transported in the Chinese city of Shanghai as the nation battles a surge in respiratory illnesses it insists are not down to a new pathogen but a various seasonal bugs
This graph, produced by the Danish Statens Serum Institut, shows the number of Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections recorded per week (orange bars), the percentage of testing kits submitted for testing that are returning positive results for the pathogen are also on the rise (dotted black line)
The spread of cases has raised fears that a European outbreak of the infection is spreading across the continent.
Mycoplasma pneumoniae normally presents as a mild flu-like disease with those infected suffering with a fever. fatigue, headache, sore throat and prolonged cough.
Cases are most common in children aged between six and 12-years-old.
Experts have nicknamed the disease ‘atypical pneumonia’ because penicillin, a common antibiotic that normally helps fend off bacterial infections, has no effect.
However, SSI senior researcher Hanne-Dorthe Emborg said the outbreak wasn’t unusual and experts had been predicting one for some time.
READ MORE: WHO demands fresh data from China amid outbreak of ‘white lung syndrome’ as Chinese are told to wear masks and social distance again – in chilling echo of Covid
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said the agency was ‘following up with China’ following a surge in cases of pneumonia in the country
She said Denmark tends to suffer nationwide epidemics of mycoplasma pneumonia roughly every four years, typically in autumn and early winter.
Ms Emborg added that, with the last outbreak recorded in 2018, the Scandinavian country had been due for surge in cases.
‘For the past four years, the number of mycoplasma infections has been extremely low, and it is therefore not unusual that we have an epidemic now,’ she said.
‘We have actually been waiting for it since we closed the country after the Covid-19 pandemic.’
Like Chinese health officials, Ms Emborg said the recent wave of cases could be higher than normal due to children lacking exposure to the bug over the pandemic.
‘Precisely because the number has been so low in the past 3.5 years, and there is therefore a group of children who have not built up immunity, we can probably also expect a higher incidence this season than what has been seen during previous Mycoplasma pneumoniae epidemics before the pandemic,’ she said.
The SSI added this was not a Danish-only phenomenon and that, in addition to China, a rise in mycoplasma infections has been seen in Sweden and Singapore.
Beijing has also pointed to other countries suffering similar outbreaks as it faces concern over its transparency.
As the nation faces requests for more data on its outbreak, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the nation had the situation in hand.
‘That is a very common phenomenon in many countries, and in China that has been put under effective control,’ he told reporters at the United Nations in New York.
He added: ‘China’s interactions with the international community will not be affected by any factors, and we welcome more visits from friends from across the world.’
Footage has emerged of health workers in China spraying disinfectant in streets and schools
Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases from the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline the Danish assessment of the situation made sense.
He said data showed waves of Mycoplasma pneumonia cases typically strike countries every three to seven years.
Professor Hunter added that research suggested the last global wave hit in 2019/2020 and that, combined with the bacteria’s comparatively slow rate of reproduction, incubation and transmission, it may have taken it until now for the outbreaks to be observed in multiple countries.
He said the current situation in the UK remains unclear, but that Britian had also seen similar gaps of multiple years between Mycoplasma pneumonia waves in the past.
Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, told this website the wave of cases was most likely not linked to a new strain of the bacteria, which evolve far slower than viral pathogens like Covid.
‘I doubt it is anything special as a strain as bacteria evolve much more slowly, much more likely it is a “bad year”, probably amplified by the lockdowns,’ he said.
He said lockdowns likely interrupted the natural spread of the bacteria meaning more children were vulnerable the next time it surged.
‘In the case of lockdowns the restriction on movement would have kept what would have been a natural immunisation cycle from happening meaning a bigger susceptible population when the next natural uptick occurs,’ he said.
The Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL) said, by the week ending November 16, 103 per 100,000 children aged five to 14 had been diagnosed with pneumonia (shown in blue dotted line). At the peak last year, there were just 58 cases per 100,000
‘By this reasoning we should expect something like this in most countries that went through lockdowns although when the uptick will occur is not certain.’
China’s wave of cases sparked global concern due to its lack of transparency when Covid was first spotted in Wuhan in late 2019, shortly before the virus swept the globe.
And yesterday the World Health Organization (WHO) requested more data from China on its outbreak of pneumonia in children.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said the agency was ‘following up with China’ as hospitals across the country continue to be overwhelmed.
Face masks and social distancing are again being recommended in the secretive nation, in a chilling echo of the early days of Covid.
The country’s pneumonia spike in has been dubbed ‘white lung syndrome’ because of the way the lung damage shows up on scans among children.
However, China and has insisted a post-lockdown rebound in respiratory illnesses is to blame rather than an entirely new virus.
Beijing’s lockdown was one of the most brutal and longest in the world, which the WHO says robbed children of vital immunity against regular seasonal illnesses.
The Netherlands, while observing a rise in pneumonia cases, hasn’t pinned the increase on a spike in mycoplasma pneumoniae infections.
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