CDC’s comments on pneumonia outbreaks reminiscent of agency’s reaction to early COVID cases, experts say

Pediatric pneumonia outbreaks in multiple countries have some doctors and families concerned — but statements from public health agencies suggest there’s no cause for alarm. This is similar to their initial reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are saying.

Hospitals in China have reportedly been “overwhelmed with sick children” as a result of the pneumonia outbreak, according to ProMED, the global digital disease surveillance system.

Also, the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL) has reported a surge in cases — as have some U.S. states, including Ohio and Massachusetts.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Dec. 1 sent the following statement to Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel: “As of today, the CDC is not seeing anything out of the ordinary related to levels of mycoplasma across the country, but we are watching it closely.”

On its website, the agency stated that it is “monitoring reports of increased respiratory illness around the world,” and that “diagnosis of pneumonia in children, along with other respiratory illnesses, increases every year in the fall and winter months.”

Pediatric pneumonia outbreaks in multiple countries have some doctors and families concerned — but statements from public health agencies suggest there is no cause for alarm. (iStock)

The agency also noted that the number of children seeking emergency care for diagnosed pneumonia is “largely consistent with previous years” for children aged 0 to 4 years, with “slight increases above typical levels” for children aged 5 to 17.

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“These increases are likely caused by viruses and bacteria [that] we expect to see during the respiratory illness season,” the CDC said.

The World Health Organization (WHO), too, has chalked up the outbreaks to known respiratory diseases rather than novel viruses.

“As of now, at the present time, Chinese surveillance and hospital systems report that the clinical manifestations are caused by known pathogens in circulation,” WHO said on its website.

CDC headquarters

“These increases are likely caused by viruses and bacteria we expect to see during the respiratory illness season,” the CDC stated on its website. (REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

“Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a common respiratory pathogen and a common cause of pediatric pneumonia, and is readily treated with antibiotics,” the agency also said.

“Due to the arrival of the winter season, the increasing trend in respiratory illnesses is expected; co-circulation of respiratory viruses may increase the burden on health care facilities,” it added.

With the current childhood pneumonia outbreak in China, Siegel said that both the CDC and WHO have been “upfront asserting that it is not a new pathogen.”

dr marc siegel

Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel weighed in on the CDC’s reactions to COVID in 2020 — and to the reactions today to pneumonia in 2023. (Fox News)

“There is less of a sense of suppressing information, and the high incidence of resistant mycoplasma infection associated with the outbreak has also been clear,” he went on. 

“The CDC has also done a good job of tracking cases here, and asserting that there is no connection and that the incidence of mycoplasma has not increased,” said Siegel. “They are monitoring the situation very closely, which appears to be a real improvement over early 2020.”

Comparison to COVID reactions

The health agencies’ reactions to the current pneumonia outbreaks in late 2023 have been compared to the agencies’ initial reactions to the COVID-19 virus in 2020.

“The CDC is our microbiologic liaison to the world. It is our surveillance system. It is our eyes and ears.”

In testimony to Congress on Feb. 27, 2020, then-CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield stated that “most cases of COVID-19 in the United States have been associated with travel from China, but some person-to-person spread among close contacts of travelers has been seen.”

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He also said, “It’s important to note that this virus is not spreading within American communities at this time.”

He went on, “The potential global public health threat posed by this virus is high, but right now, the immediate risk to most Americans is low. The greater risk is for people who have recently traveled to China or been exposed to someone with COVID-19.” 

​​Dr. Brett Osborn, a Florida neurosurgeon and longevity expert, noted that in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, before the virus entered the U.S., “the CDC was relatively close-lipped about its specific details.”

Dr. Brett Osborn

Dr. Brett Osborn, a Florida neurosurgeon and longevity expert, noted that in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic before the virus entered the U.S., “the CDC was relatively close-lipped about its specific details.” (Dr. Brett Osborn)

“To mitigate the risk of a similar occurrence — and the United States again being caught off-guard — Congress submitted a battery of questions to the CDC demanding answers about the recent pneumonia outbreak in China,” Osborn told Fox News Digital. “The agency has yet to respond.”

“It is widely known that China thwarted international efforts, including efforts by the CDC, to respond to the burgeoning COVID-19 crisis as it began to unfold in China.”

In a Nov. 29 letter from the U.S. Committee on Energy and Commerce to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Mandy Cohen, committee chairs wrote the following: “The Centers for Disease Control and Protection’s (CDC) failure to communicate accurate information in real-time during the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined public trust in the agency. If the CDC is to regain credibility with the American people, it must be transparent and forthcoming with the information it has on public health threats facing our nation.”

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“It is widely known that China thwarted international efforts, including efforts by the CDC, to respond to the burgeoning COVID-19 crisis as it began to unfold in China.”

“It would be an abdication of the CDC’s duty to the American people if it allows China to repeat its misdeeds from the COVID-19 pandemic. The American people should not have to rely on the unaccountable and untrustworthy WHO to communicate information about Chinese public health threats.”

Sick baby in hospital

Hospitals in China have reportedly been “overwhelmed with sick children” as a result of today’s pneumonia outbreak, according to ProMED, the global digital disease surveillance system. (iStock)

Siegel pointed out that with COVID, “the CDC was caught flat-footed, in large part because China was suppressing crucial public health information and CDC was not allowed to have ‘boots on the ground’ to investigate, which they repeatedly requested through CDC Director Robert Redfield.”

He also said, “They did post the structure of the virus online early, but little else.”

Adding to the problem, Siegel noted, was that the World Health Organization (WHO) called COVID a “regional problem only.”

Person gets COVID test

Medical personnel administer tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a pop-up testing center in Sydney, Australia, on July 30, 2020.  (REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo)

While preliminary data suggest that the pneumonia outbreaks are caused by known viruses — including RSV, mycoplasma and other common cold viruses — doctors and health authorities are calling for definitive answers.

“The CDC must drill down on the specifics and apply political pressure on China to best prepare the United States for another potential pandemic,” said Osborn. “Early warning is critical.”

“The CDC is our microbiologic liaison to the world. It is our surveillance system. It is our eyes and ears,” he went on. 

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“We are reliant on its liability to protect the nation through extreme transparency.”

As Osborn pointed out, “It is always best to err on the side of caution and alert the nation early of a potential problem, or else risk another COVID-19.”

Fox News Digital reached out to the CDC for comment.

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