Hospitals in China are reporting respiratory illnesses and sick children complaining of pneumonia-like symptoms, prompting a World Health Organization (WHO) investigation.
A Beijing Children’s Hospital told state media CCTV that at least 7,000 patients were being admitted to the institution daily, far exceeding its capacity.
Last week, the largest children’s hospital in nearby Tianjin reportedly received more than 13,000 babies in its outpatient and emergency departments.
Liaoning Province, about 690 km northeast of the capital, also has a large population.
The growing number of cases prompted the WHO on Wednesday to issue a formal request for disease data on respiratory diseases and clusters of pneumonia in children.
UN It is rare for the Health Agency to publicly seek detailed information from countries, and such requests are usually made internally. The agency’s China office said it was a “routine” request.
Chinese health officials later said there were no “unusual or novel diseases”.
They said the rising infections were a combination of already known viruses and linked to the country’s first full cold spell since strict Covid restrictions were lifted last December.
Lifting barriers, along with the circulation of known pathogens Mycoplasma pneumoniaeThis may have contributed to the rise in cases of such diseases, officials suggested.
The WHO also said on Wednesday that the link between undiagnosed pneumonia and the rise in respiratory infections is currently unclear.
What happened so far?
Northern China reported an increase in “influenza-like illnesses” since mid-October compared with the same period in the previous three years, according to the WHO.
On November 21, the public disease surveillance system ProMED issued a notification on reports of “undiagnosed pneumonia”. ProMED, run by healthcare professionals, was earlier in 2019 Raised the alarm On the virus that causes covid.
“Because of the pneumonia outbreak in China, children’s hospitals in Beijing, Liaoning and elsewhere are overflowing with sick children, and schools and classes are on the verge of suspension,” ProMED said, citing a report by FTV News.
“It is not clear when the outbreak started because it is unusual for so many children to be affected so quickly.
As Beijing and Liaoning are nearly 800 km apart, the report suggests that undiagnosed respiratory disease is prevalent in many parts of China.
“The report did not say any adults were affected, suggesting some exposure in schools.”
Some parents in Shanghai on Friday said they were not too worried about the wave of illness.
“The common cold is happening all over the world,” Emily Wu said outside Children’s Hospital.
What are the symptoms?
According to Chinese health officials, the outbreak may be linked Mycoplasma pneumoniaeAlso known as “walking pneumonia”, this is a common bacterial infection that usually affects children from May onwards.
Symptoms of walking pneumonia include a sore throat, fatigue, and a persistent cough that lasts for weeks or months. In severe cases, it can eventually worsen into pneumonia.
A Beijing resident, identified only as Wei, told FTV News that the affected children “have no cough and no symptoms. They have a high temperature (fever) and many develop lung nodules.
How contagious is the disease?
Bruce Thomson, head of the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne School of Health Sciences, told Reuters the most preliminary data showed nothing out of the ordinary.
“At this stage, there is nothing to say that this could be a new variant of Covid,” he said.
“One thing to note is that we can assure that the monitoring processes are working, which is a very good thing.”
The WHO recommended that people in China get vaccinated, isolate if they are sick, wear masks if necessary, and seek medical attention if necessary.
“While WHO seeks this additional information, we recommend that people in China adopt measures to reduce the risk of respiratory disease,” the agency said.
What do scientists say?
Marian Koopmans, a Dutch virologist who has advised the WHO on Covid, said there should be “more information, especially diagnostic information”.
“We have to be careful.”
David Hayman, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The challenge is to diagnose outbreaks and determine the cause.
He pointed out that it is behind seasonal respiratory infections.
“I’m not going to push the pandemic panic button based on what we know so far, but I’m very interested to see the response from China to the WHO and the subsequent assessment by the WHO,” Brian McCloskey said. A health expert who advised the WHO on the pandemic.
“What we’re seeing is the WHO’s international health regulatory system in action,” he said, referring to rules governing how countries work with the WHO in potential outbreaks.
Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said that because the tools now exist to pick up emerging influenza or coronaviruses “pretty quickly,” it is unlikely that infections are surging under the radar.
“(I) suspect it’s going to end up being more mundane or a combination of things — say Covid, flu, RSV. [respiratory syncytial virus] – But hopefully we’ll know more soon,” he said.