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Mystery child pneumonia cases skyrocket in Europe as hospitals overrun in China

Concerning footage has emerged online sparking worry in the medical community.

As pneumonia cases continue to skyrocket in children in the Netherlands, China's latest wave of mystery respiratory illnesses has reportedly threatened to overwhelm the nation's hospital system.

Roughly 80 out of every 100,000 kids in the Netherlands aged between five and 15 were treated for the condition last week, according to the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL), marking the biggest outbreak recorded in years.

No explanation for mystery pneumonia cases

At the height of the flu season in 2022, there were just 60 pneumonia cases out of every 100,000 children in the same age group. Health officials have yet to offer any explanation for the outbreak and it currently remains unknown whether the uptick seen across Europe is connected to the concerning rise in respiratory illnesses that is currently sweeping China.

Footage of Chinese hospitals being overrun with patients has sparked concern in the medical community. Source: Associated Press.
Footage of Chinese hospitals being overrun with patients has sparked concern in the medical community. Source: Associated Press.

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, with the surge being blamed on children contracting known viruses like the flu, rhinoviruses, the respiratory syncytial virus, and the adenovirus, which they largely avoided during the two years of Covid-19 lockdowns.

With most of China's strict pandemic restrictions having been lifted at the end of 2022, the mystery wave is effectively the first post-Covid flu season the country has seen.

Some health officials have hypothesised that a lack of exposure to common viruses during Covid may have weakened the population's immunity, though in the Netherlands lockdown laws were lifted a long time ago, prompting uncertainty over what is behind the soaring pneumonia cases in kids.

Concerns raised over spike in respiratory illnesses in China

In one concerning video, hospitals are seen in Beijing and other parts of China's north overrun with people and sick children, raising concerns within the medical community around the world.

The WHO took the rare step of publicly asking Chinese authorities to provide data on any outbreaks of pneumonia, which were found to be driven by known viruses.

Beijing hospitals are pictured here in November packed with people. Source: Associated Press.
Beijing hospitals are pictured here in November packed with people. Source: Associated Press.

“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.”

Meanwhile on home soil, mask mandates are back on the table as Australia continues to mull over how necessary face coverings are during a spike in hospitalisations from Covid-19.

Western Australia has announced it will mandate face masks in hospitals from Monday in a bid to protect vulnerable citizens as cases continue to rise. Premier Roger Cook described it as a "simple measure" that will protect the state's most vulnerable.

It comes after the Queensland government granted hospitals the ability to enforce the same rule if desired.

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