Unprecedented China COVID Surge and White Lung Syndrome

Unprecedented China COVID Surge and White Lung Syndrome
This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round blue objects), also known as CCP virus, the virus that causes COVID-19, emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab that were isolated from a patient in the United States. (NIAID-RML via Reuters)
Yuhong Dong

An unprecedented surge of the coronavirus has hit China, with a reported estimate of up to 250 million people being infected in the first three weeks of December.

The estimate was provided by an insider officer from the nation's top health authorities, initially reported by Bloomberg News and Financial Times.

One feature of this China wave is that an unusual number of patients have manifested with white lung syndrome. On social networks, many Chinese people have shared X-rays of their lungs.

In a CT or X-ray scan, air sacs in the lungs called alveoli usually appear as dark regions on the image. However, when inflammation and infection occur, the alveoli become filled with exudative or inflammatory cells, blocking the passage of the rays and resulting in white areas appearing on the scan.

This China wave has three distinct features: unprecedented speed, an unprecedentedly high number of infected people, and unprecedented severity.

What Could Be Causing the Recent Spike in China?

Multiple aspects seem to have coalesced to contribute to the current spike in cases in China, such as weakened immunity, preexisting medical conditions, a variety of environmental toxins, the winter season, and the potential reactivation of old COVID strains.

The health and immune systems of a great many Chinese citizens have been seriously weakened.

This is likely due to the country's "zero-COVID" policy that has been in place for the last year, resulting in chronic anxiety and stress that has weakened immunity by decreasing the effectiveness of natural killer cells and lymphocytes.

Additionally, when this policy was in place, ordinary citizens had trouble accessing treatments and medicines due to a lack of medical professionals. Chronic diseases are often associated with chronic inflammation, which has made people much more vulnerable to infection.

In China, people encountered a number of problems such as deficiencies in nutrition due to lack of access to food during strict lockdowns, food toxins, and pollution of both air and water, all of which lead to overall poor health conditions.

Winter only exacerbates these issues, as there are a variety of respiratory viruses and bacteria that can cause serious lung illnesses during this time of year, including respiratory syncytial virus.

How to Explain White Lung Syndrome?

There are a few potential theories of what is causing white lung syndrome amid the high number of cases in the ongoing outbreak in China.

The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is known to cause minor issues in the upper airways, much like a regular cold virus, resulting in mild illnesses.

The earlier Wuhan and Delta strains of COVID-19, on the other hand, have been linked to more severe respiratory conditions in the lower parts of the lungs.

To begin with, SARS-CoV-2 is far from a simple virus. It is not uncommon for COVID patients to keep testing positive for viral RNA even months after the initial infection despite there being no signs of active replication.

This makes it extremely hard to get rid of the virus from the body, as opposed to viruses that cause only short-term illnesses such as the flu virus or hepatitis A virus.

A study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has demonstrated that the virus's RNA can be "reverse transcribed" and inserted in the host cell's genome. In this case, the SARS-CoV-2 genome can be stored or hidden away in human cells; it acts like a ticking time bomb in the body that may be reactivated when immunity is compromised. There is a theoretical possibility that earlier strains, like the original Wuhan strain and Delta strain, could resurface.

Moreover, many Chinese citizens have been vaccinated with inactivated COVID vaccine. These vaccines contain inactive viruses incapable of causing infection, but their RNA components are still present.

Furthermore, it is difficult to guarantee that all the inactivated vaccines are totally dead (uninfectious), as quality control only tests a small fraction of the vaccines produced. Quality control is a crucial technical requirement when manufacturing inactivated vaccines.

Although these inactivated vaccines are not infectious, the introduction of the vaccine into the body still leaves the nucleic acid components of the virus in it. Once in the body, cells can ingest the RNAs. Research has shown that UV-inactivated type 1 poliovirus can generate active viruses from cells that adsorb it.

The inactivated vaccine was initially made from the Wuhan virus strain. This initial strain mainly affected the lower respiratory system, causing numerous white lung images.

The Chinese Communist Party administered a large amount of inactivated vaccines to the Chinese people, which essentially planted a variety of dormant new coronaviruses. When the body's immunity is weakened, such as during the zero-COVID policy period, and the production of interferon in the cells is insufficient, it allows the viral nucleic acid to reproduce and be discharged from the body.

This is similar to the herpes virus, which can remain dormant when immunity is strong, but will become active when it is weak.

Could a New Virus Strain Emerge From China?

Because of the high number of infected individuals and the weakened immunity of many in China, it is probable that new variations could come out of the country.

The more people infected, the greater the chance of the virus mutating. This is a similar phenomenon that led to the origin of the South African variants.

It is difficult to identify the true reason behind the current spike in cases, as the Chinese regime routinely suppresses or alters information.

What Should Be Done in Response to China's Sudden Rise in Cases?

It is important to remain composed and vigilant in the face of this pandemic.

Rigorous COVID screening protocols should be implemented for travelers coming from China and its adjacent nations.

The most effective way to protect oneself is to strengthen natural immunity. To do this, it is important to practice good habits such as getting sufficient sleep, relaxation, and nutrition. Additionally, supplementing diet with vitamin D and micronutrients may be beneficial.

Having a positive attitude is also an important consideration. By thinking of others and being selfless, we can enhance our antiviral immunity.

We always have our own immunity to rely on to protect us from any viruses or bacteria.

Public health messages should emphasize the importance of maintaining a strong immune system, alongside other public health measures.

Dr. Yuhong Dong is a senior medical columnist for The Epoch Times. She is a former senior medical scientific expert and pharmacovigilance leader at the Novartis headquarters in Switzerland and a four-time Novartis award winner. She has preclinical research experience in virology, immunology, oncology, neurology, and ophthalmology, and also has clinical experience in infectious disease and internal medicine. She earned her MD and a doctorate in infectious diseases at Beijing University in China.