There has been a surge in pneumonia in China

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Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, is not surprised by the wave of illness. He says it is a typical winter surge in respiratory infections. “It is happening slightly earlier this year, perhaps because of increased population susceptibility to respiratory infections resulting from three years of COVID measures.”

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria congregate around the endings of certain sensory nerves in the skin and release an itch-inducing enzyme called V8. The microorganisms form part of humans’ normal microbiome, but can also cause infections. The bacteria are particularly prevalent in people with atopic dermatitis, or eczema. A medication that stopped nerve cells from interacting with V8 made mice less itchy. “Hopefully, this understanding will translate into new treatment options helping to tackle the misery of itch and eczema,” says dermatologist Emma Wedgeworth.

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A lack of thought can make it difficult to get around for the disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent chemists. Flexible and part-time career opportunities are in short supply and can also be a problem. Three chemists advise companies and institutions on how to do better and ask those who have left the profession for their input on what went wrong.

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However, the Chinese wave of illness differs from that seen in other countries. During the winter season in China, infections of the M. pneumoniae have been common. This is surprising because bacterial infections are often opportunistic and take hold after viral infections, says Cowling.

Francois Balloux, a Computational Biologist at University College London, said measures that were implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 gave people less chance to build up immunity against these microorganisms, a phenomenon called immunity debt. “Since China experienced a far longer and harsher lockdown than essentially any other country on Earth, it was anticipated that those ‘lockdown exit’ waves could be substantial in China,” said Balloux.

Although pneumonia caused by the bacterium is usually treated with antibiotics known as macrolides, an overreliance on these drugs has led to the pathogen developing resistance. Studies show that resistance rates of M. pneumoniae to macrolides in Beijing are between 70% and 90%1. Cowling theorizes that the high levels of hospitalization from M. pneumoniae may be related to this resistance.

Jenkins adds that even if the infections are caused by known pathogens, it’s important to track them closely to minimize the risk of a serious outbreak of disease. “We are in a very different situation [to COVID-19], but I don’t think we can be complacent,” she says.

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