Following the mystery pneumonia outbreak in China’s pediatric population, a similar illness dubbed the White Lung Syndrome has caused a surge in child hospitalization cases in Ohio, US. The syndrome is characterized by the presence of white patches throughout the lungs and children suffering from it exhibit symptoms such as cough, fever, and fatigue. Young children under five may also experience sneezing, nasal congestion, watery eyes, wheezing, vomiting, and diarrhea. Health officials in Ohio suspect that it may not be a novel respiratory virus causing the current outbreak and could potentially be linked to Covid, flu, RSV, or mycoplasma. While experts recommend vaccination for children to prevent the spread of the illness, maintaining a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and sufficient sleep is also advised. (Also read | Respiratory illnesses in kids on rise: Common causes and preventive measures)
The Mystery Behind White Lung Syndrome
“The term ‘White Lung Syndrome’ was coined to describe a peculiar respiratory illness that initially surfaced among patients in China, primarily presenting pneumonia-like symptoms. In China, it was found to be a result of an amalgamation of various respiratory illnesses, including influenza, SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19), Respiratory syncytial (RSV), and mycoplasma pneumoniae. The significance of this is amplified in a world that has not yet forgotten the impact of Covid-19, and rightly so, as the number of cases has experienced a staggering surge,” explains Dr. Ravi Dosi, Consultant in Pulmonary Medicine at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Indore.
“White Lung Syndrome is being recognized as a new global health concern. The term was originally linked with an outbreak of a respiratory illness in China, and now characterizes a corresponding wave of pneumonia affecting children in the U.S. Since August this year, approximately 150 pediatric pneumonia cases have been reported, particularly in Warren County, Ohio, resembling a parallel outbreak in China. This has raised alarms among health officials worldwide, prompting current investigations by health authorities into the exact cause of this outbreak,” states Dr. Dosi.
“This respiratory infection is caused by a blend of microorganisms (influenza, mycoplasma, etc.) resulting in pneumonia. On chest x-rays, it manifests as white lung patches. Given its recent and rapid spread in China, the term ‘White Lung Syndrome’ has been coined to promptly identify this outbreak,” explains Dr. S Vidya Nair, Senior Consultant in Pulmonology at Marengo Asia Hospitals, Faridabad.
Recognizing the Symptoms
“The characteristic feature of this condition is the formation of white patches throughout the lungs, aptly termed as ‘white lung pneumonia’ or ‘white lung syndrome’. Currently, this phenomenon is prevalent in China, where many children exhibit pneumonia in both lungs. The symptoms initially present as upper respiratory infections and subsequently progress to lower respiratory tract infections. Patients begin to experience infection, fever, cough, and other symptoms such as sore throat, watery eyes, skin rashes, or even diarrhea,” describes Dr. Vikas Maurya, Director and Head of Pulmonology at Fortis Shalimar Bagh.
“The most common symptoms observed in affected children consist of cough, fever, and fatigue. A timely visit to the doctor is crucial as early medical intervention aids in accurate diagnosis and treatment,” adds Dr. Dosi.
“The clinical symptoms and signs bear resemblance to previous respiratory infections caused by influenza and other atypical pneumonia-inducing agents. The symptoms typically commence with flu-like signs and transform into cough, wheezing, breathlessness, ultimately culminating in pneumonia,” inputs Dr. Maurya.
“White Lung Syndrome is emerging as a new global health issue. The term was initially linked with a respiratory illness outbreak in China, but it now characterizes a similar wave of pneumonia affecting children in the U.S. Since August this year, approximately 150 pediatric pneumonia cases have been reported, particularly in Warren County, Ohio, mirroring a concurrent outbreak in China. This has raised alarms among health officials worldwide, prompting for ongoing investigations by health authorities into the exact cause of this outbreak,” reiterates Dr. Ravi Dosi, Consultant in Pulmonary Medicine at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Indore.
Treating White Lung Syndrome
Treatment primarily focuses on managing pneumonia symptoms and ensuring the overall respiratory well-being of patients. Medications are administered to alleviate symptoms like cough and fever, while continuous monitoring and oxygen therapy may be considered if necessary.
“In the U.S., with flu season upon us, additional concern arises. It is imperative to adopt preventative measures, not just within the U.S., but also here in India. These preventive measures include maintaining personal hygiene – such as regular handwashing, covering mouths while coughing, refraining from public outings when unwell, and ensuring influenza vaccinations. With the year-end festivities approaching, we must exercise vigilance to observe all precautions, especially when partaking in any gatherings where the risk of contracting a respiratory infection is heightened,” emphasizes Dr. Dosi.
“Precautionary measures like upholding hygiene, wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, can significantly reduce the risk of respiratory infections, including viruses or bacteria such as mycoplasma. Vaccination is also crucial. While getting vaccinated for influenza may not address all viruses, it does offer protection against influenza at the very least,” insists Dr. Maurya.
“If exhibiting flu-like symptoms, it is recommended to stay home and consult a respiratory specialist. Chronic respiratory patients must strictly adhere to the prescribed medications/inhalers, and any change in symptoms necessitates a review consultation,” adds Dr. Nair.