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After the cases reported in China, childhood pneumonia is also on the rise in Vietnam and France. Beyond the Alps, consultations for this infection have grown by 36% among under 15s in recent days. Under accusation, however, it is not a virus but the return of a bacterium that disappeared during the pandemic, Mycoplasma pneumonia, which would also be responsible, at least in part, for the explosion of respiratory diseases in China.
The reappearance of a known pathogen
«Since last April there has been an increase in the global circulation of Mycoplasma pneumoniae, in particular in Asia, but also in Europe», confirms Alexandre Bleibtreu, member of the Société de pathologie infectieuse de langue française (Spilf). Which he adds: «We are not in a situation similar to Covid. It’s just the reappearance of a known pathogen.”
Given that the bacterium has not circulated epidemically for 10 years, it is very likely that immunity to this agent has decreased. Rather, what worries infectious disease specialists concerns the risks linked to antibiotic resistance, the drugs used to treat this pneumonia. «We have no information on the rate of antibiotic resistance. A few years ago we were at 10%, but today we do not have enough information to measure it due to the lack of circulation of the bacteria”, specifies Gilles Pialoux, head of the department of infectious and tropical diseases at the Tenon Hospital in Paris.
«The current situation should not make us think of an emergency, but the institutions must certainly monitor – reiterates Fabrizio Pregliasco, virologist at the State University of Milan – today it is also necessary to delve deeper into the reasons why these pneumonias exist and are occurring increase, i.e. whether it is Mycoplasma pneumoniae or the combination of several usual respiratory viruses”.
Post-pandemic immune gap
There is no doubt that the increase in respiratory infections in children in China has triggered a flashback to the beginning of Covid, but the November 23 meeting between WHO and Chinese health officials dispelled much of this fear. The evidence presented highlighted what is called the post-pandemic “immune gap”: a drastic reduction in the circulation of other viruses and bacteria has created a cohort of children with few immunological defenses against influenza, RSV and other viruses, placing the basis for large epidemics.