CDC gives update on illnesses - including pneumonia - in children

Georgia records first pediatric flu death of the season plus an adult over the age of 65
Dr. Mandy K. Cohen, Director of the CDC, reacts with character after she had the flu shot after she addressed her remarks during The Atlanta Press Club 2023 Leadership Newsmaker Series at the Commerce Club on Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2023, in Atlanta.
Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Dr. Mandy K. Cohen, Director of the CDC, reacts with character after she had the flu shot after she addressed her remarks during The Atlanta Press Club 2023 Leadership Newsmaker Series at the Commerce Club on Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2023, in Atlanta. Miguel Martinez /

Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday the spike in childhood pneumonia reported in some states is not a cause for alarm and her agency is confident it is not being caused by a new virus.

At an update on the big three respiratory viruses — the coronavirus, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV — Cohen faced a barrage of questions about cases of pneumonia reported in parts of Massachusetts and Ohio. Cohen said “there is no evidence” that they are due to anything unusual but said CDC is looking into the outbreaks in both states.

“Based on what we know today, the illnesses are not due to a new or novel virus or illness,” said Cohen, who instead pointed to the mix of known respiratory illnesses as the cause.

Cohen, who was also grilled Thursday by GOP lawmakers about the new spike in respiratory illnesses in China, said at the press conference that the number of childhood pneumonia cases here is “nothing out of the ordinary,” for this time of year. She told lawmakers the uptick of illnesses is being caused by a mix of known pathogens including the coronavirus, flu and mycoplasma pneumonia, a common bacterium that typically causes mild illness in children.

Pneumonia is a general medical term used to describe an infection and inflammation of the lungs. It can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria, or fungi.

Mycoplasma pneumonia is not a reportable disease in the U.S. and the CDC relies on information from emergency room departments daily to track any unusual trend. She said more than 80% of the nation’s ERs share information about illnesses they are seeing and treating.

“And at this time, what we are seeing is quite typical of this moment in the winter respiratory season,” she said.

Georgia Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said while mycoplasma pneumonia is not a reportable disease in Georgia, the agency doesn’t have any indication of any uptick in Georgia at this time.

The wave of pneumonia cases sweeping through parts of China and reports of hospitals overwhelmed with sick children prompted the World Health Organization to request details on possible sources. Chinese officials maintain the rise in respiratory illnesses is linked to the lifting of COVID restrictions along with the circulation of known pathogens including mycoplasma pneumonia.

Cohen said CDC staff members working in China have also reported there is no novel pathogen at play, and this was corroborated by other sources.

The Warren County Health District in Ohio said in a press release Wednesday the high number of pediatric pneumonia cases has crossed the “outbreak” threshold, though health officials say they don’t think the cause is a new respiratory disease. Instead, they said the cases they have been able to confirm include people sickened by known pathogens, including mycoplasma pneumonia. The health department said there have been no reported deaths and that most people were recovering at home and being treated with antibiotics.

Mycoplasma pneumonia is caused by a bacterium that can spread through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The bacterium can linger in the nose and throat without making a person sick but may develop into pneumonia if it spreads to the lungs. It is sometimes referred to as ‘walking pneumonia,’ a term for mild forms of pneumonia which usually do not require bed rest or a hospital stay.

Meanwhile, Cohen said Friday that the respiratory virus season is ramping up in the U.S, and she expects the levels of COVID, flu and RSV to continue to increase during the coming weeks.

She said RSV is in “full swing.” She said the flu season has begun across most of the country and is accelerating fast. The latest flu report released Friday evening from DPH reveals the first pediatric flu-related death in Georgia this season, with a total of two deaths from the flu in the state since October. The child who died was between the ages of 5 and 17, but no other details were provided. The second death was a person in the 65 and up age group.

And she said while COVID levels are relatively low, COVID illnesses are the still the primary cause of new respiratory hospitalizations and deaths, with about 15,000 hospitalizations and about 1,000 deaths every week across the country.

In this file photo, (Left to right) Morris Brown College president Kevin James, CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen and Conference of National Black Churches president Jacqui Burton take a photo during a tour of a vaccine clinic hosted by the Conference of National Black Churches on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. (Natrice Miller/

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Cohen added it’s still important and not too late for Americans to get vaccinated. For the first time in U.S. history, vaccines for all three major respiratory respiratory viruses — COVID, RSV, and flu — are available. Higher levels of vaccinations across the population will help reduce the number of hospitalizations and ease hospital strain, according to the CDC.

Cohen also said if a person gets sick it’s critical for people to get tested and treated with most antiviral drugs most effective when taken early in illness.

In this photo illustration, Pfizer's Paxlovid is displayed on July 7, 2022, in Pembroke Pines, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS)

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Credit: TNS

While the latest CDC figures for COVID and RSV show a downward trend, the lag in hospitalization data makes it difficult to get a true picture of infections. The latest figures available are from before Thanksgiving week. In Georgia, the number of new COVID hospitalizations fell to 320 for the week ending Nov. 18, down from 360 the previous week, according to the most recent data available. A year ago, the new COVID hospitalizations for the week ending Nov. 19, 2022 was 452.

RSV is also showing a declining trend after a recent surge, according to the most recent data available,

Forecasting from CDC scientists predicts two possible scenarios for the holiday season. But neither forecast comes close to the staggeringly high levels of illness and hospitalization of the 2021-2022 winter season, when the original omicron variant dominated.

In both scenarios, COVID activity is predicted to be only “moderate.” That’s because most Americans — 97% according to the CDC — have some immunity to COVID through vaccination, infection, or both. In the first scenario, flu and RSV are also moderate, and the peaks are staggered. In the second scenario, flu and RSV activity is severe, and the peaks overlap, leading to levels of illness similar to what was seen last winter.

Georgia’s current COVID, RSV and flu activity


320 — New COVID hospitalizations in Georgia for the week ending November 18. That’s down from 360 the previous week.

A year ago, it was 452.


5.4% – percent of patient visits to doctors were for flu or flu-like illnesses during the week ending November 25. That’s the same as a week the previous week.

A year ago, it was 6.8%

279 — total flu-related hospitalizations in the eight-county metro Atlanta region (Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Cobb, Douglas, Gwinnett, Rockdale, and Newton) from the start of flu season in early October until the week ending November 11, most recent week of data available.

A year ago, the total number of hospitalizations for this same time period was 1,171.


1.8 per 100,000 people —The overall rate of RSV hospitalizations in Georgia for the week ending November 25, based on a voluntary reporting program that includes hospitals in metro Atlanta. This is also preliminary data. That’s down from a rate of 2.6 per 100,000 people a week earlier.

A year ago, the rate was 0.7 per 100,000 people.