WHO probes respiratory illness surge in China: 4 notes

The World Health Organization is monitoring a surge of respiratory illnesses among children in China, which health officials in the country say is due to known pathogens and not "any unusual or novel pathogens." 

On Nov. 22, the WHO requested epidemiologic and clinical information from China in response to unspecified media reports and global disease monitoring alerts regarding "undiagnosed pneumonia in children's hospitals in Beijing, Liaoning and other places in China." At the time, the WHO said it aimed to confirm whether there have been clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia, and if so, whether they were separate events or part of the known general increase in respiratory illness from flu, COVID-19 and RSV and other known pathogens. 

Three more notes: 

  • A day after more information was formally requested, Chinese health authorities held a press conference and advised, "there has been no detection of any unusual or novel pathogens or unusual presentations," the WHO said in an updated statement. According to the WHO, requested data were provided, and showed, "an increase in outpatient consultations and hospital admissions due to Mycoplasma pneumoniae pneumonia since May, and RSV, adenovirus and influenza virus since October." Health officials did not report any changes in disease presentation. 


  • Chinese health authorities attributed the increase in respiratory diseases to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, as the country is in its first full winter without such restrictions. They maintained the surge in respiratory illness has not led to patient loads straining hospital capacity, though internal media reports in northern China say the outbreaks have left some hospitals overwhelmed. 


  • The WHO said there was not enough information to "fully characterize the overall risk of these reported cases" in children and that it will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as needed. The agency did not recommend any specific measures for travelers at this time, and urged China to double down on preventive measures such as mask-wearing and vaccines. 

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