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White Lung Pneumonia Sparks Concerns: What Causes It? Experts Explain

"It's not a new phenomenon," say pulmonology experts. Here's all you need to know about it.

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A recent surge in cases of paediatric pneumonia in the US and in China have sparked concerns of 'white lungs' in media reports.

"This isn't a new phenomena," Dr Ashok K Rajput, Senior Consultant, Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine at the CK Birla Hospital, Delhi tells FIT.

What is white lung pneumonia? What causes it, and how can it be treated?

FIT breaks it down.

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Why is 'white lung pneumonia' in news?

Concerns surrounding 'white lung pneumonia' started popping up after reports of a surge in cases of pediatric pneumonia in China earlier in December, and an “extremely high number of pediatric pneumonia cases” in Ohio, US emerged.

Ohio health authorities have said that the cases in the state are not linked to the cases in China.

"The current spread likely stems from existing viruses taking advantage of seasonal changes, rather than being a new threat requiring fear or panic," explains Dr Randeep Guleria, Chairman- Institute of Internal Medicine, Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Medanta, Gurugram.

What do you know about this?

Mycoplasma pneumonia, also called 'white lung syndrome', "is a phenomenon where shadows develop within the lungs, resulting in a whitish appearance," says Dr Guleria.

"It's basically a radiology term," adds Dr Ashok K Rajput.

"Normally the lung contains air which appears black. When this air is replaced by fluid or some secretion, or there is some fibrosis meaning scarring, then it develops white patches. A part of the lung can be white, or the whole lung can be white depending on the severity of the condition."
Dr Ashok K Rajput, Senior Consultant, Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, CK Birla Hospital, Delhi

What are the major symptoms?

According to the experts we spoke to, the clinical symptoms of 'white lungs' include:

  • Fever

  • Cough

  • Body aches

  • Breathlessness

  • Runny nose

  • Sore throat

Should you be worried about it?

According to Dr Rajput, severe whiteness in the lungs can be dangerous. "When there is total white out of lungs, then the oxygen level goes down. These patients are prone to respiratory failure and will need oxygen support and sometimes heavy ventilation."

"This isn't new. Usually all viral pneumonia or interstitial pneumonia (that involves scarring in the lungs) cause 'white lungs' (to different degrees). Even patients who had severe COVID-19 had white out lungs," says Dr Rajput.

He adds, "Usually these are self-limiting."

While whiteness in the lungs itself is self-limiting, infections that can lead to the phenomenon can be transmittable.

Dr Guleria says viral infections generally tend to surge in winter due to weather changes, conditions that are conducive to rapid infection spread. "Particularly in school settings, children's close interactions heighten the transmission risk from one child to another," he adds.

How can you prevent seasonal viral infections and pneumonia?

  • Stay home for at least 4-5 days after onset

  • Mask up in crowded places

  • Wash your hands frequently

  • Use tissues or cough into your elbow (not palm) to contain the spread

"In India, vigilance is crucial. While common flu cases are prevalent, close monitoring for hospitalization rates, ICU admissions, and clusters of cases is essential," adds Dr Guleria.

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