Another Pandemic? Mystery Pneumonia Sweeps Through Chinese Schools

The affected children are showing unusual symptoms.

China, still reeling from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, now faces a new threat: a mysterious pneumonia outbreak sweeping through schools. This alarming situation, reminiscent of the early days of the COVID crisis, has led to a surge in hospitalizations, casting an ominous shadow over the country’s healthcare system.

Hospitals in Beijing and Liaoning, 500 miles northeast, are struggling to cope with an influx of sick children, straining their resources to the breaking point. Local media reports suggest that school closures are imminent due to the outbreak. The affected children present with unusual symptoms, including lung inflammation and high fever, but noticeably lack the typical cough and other signs associated with flu, RSV, and other respiratory illnesses.

ProMed, an open-access surveillance platform that tracks worldwide disease outbreaks in humans and animals, issued an alert on Tuesday evening regarding an emerging epidemic of “undiagnosed pneumonia” particularly affecting children. 

A ProMed alert issued in late December 2019 served as a critical early warning about a novel virus, subsequently identified as SARS-CoV-2, alerting a wide range of medical professionals and scientists, including high-ranking officials at the World Health Organization.

In an editor’s note, ProMed said: “This report suggests a widespread outbreak of an undiagnosed respiratory illness… It is not at all clear when this outbreak started, as it would be unusual for so many children to be affected so quickly. The report does not say that any adults were affected, suggesting some exposure at the schools.”

It is too early to project whether this could be another pandemic, but as a wise influenza virologist once said to me, “The pandemic clock is ticking; we just do not know what time it is.”

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