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What is ‘White Lung Syndrome?’

With headlines about pneumonia outbreaks and clusters and what is known as “white lung syndrome” popping up in newspapers and around the internet, it can be difficult to find concise answers about what’s happening. Dr. Gail Tudor, director of Southern New Hampshire University’s (SNHU) Master of Public Health program, said the term “white lung syndrome” isn’t an official diagnosis at all. 

Director of SNHU's master's in public health programs Dr. Gail Tudor.The more official term is mycoplasma pneumonia, a bacterial infection, that is sometimes called white lung syndrome because it causes the lungs to appear white in x-rays. Another more familiar term is walking pneumonia, which derives its name from patients’ ability to maintain normal activities or at least avoid being hospitalized, Tudor said. 

In November, health officials in Warren County Ohio (Warren County PDF Source) reported 142 cases of pediatric pneumonia since August, which met the state’s definition of an outbreak. 

"(It’s) important to note that not all children in Ohio have mycoplasma pneumonia,” she said. “There are different bacteria and viruses that can cause pneumonia.” 

In fact, Tudor said health officials aren’t particularly concerned with the cases in Ohio or a number of cases reported in western Massachusetts. Neither is considered an epidemic, she said, pointing to CDC director Mandy Cohen’s comments to reporters on Dec. 1l. 

“So, what we are seeing is a seasonal trend and some years are worse than others,” she said. “In addition, due to less interactions among people during the Covid pandemic there was less spread other infectious diseases, like pneumonia. This resulted in a larger amount of susceptible people this season than in the past and an increased amount of social interaction.” 

While children under 2, along with adults over 65, are most susceptible, parents do not need to be overly concerned about their children or avoid any normal activities. She recommended normal precautions, such as avoiding sick people, washing your hands regularly and treating any chronic illnesses. In addition, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated against the flu and Covid-19.

Finally, there is no concern that white lung syndrome or other pneumonia clusters are a sign of another pandemic following Covid-19. 

“There is no evidence that the cases in Ohio are connected to other states or countries, and they would need to be connected for there to be a pandemic,” Tudor said.

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Joe Cote is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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