WHO responds to upsurge of respiratory illness in China
The World Health Organization (WHO) has shared an update on the upsurge of respiratory illnesses among children in northern China. WHO started monitoring data from Chinese surveillance systems in mid-October 2023.
On 13 November, China’s National Health Commission reported on a nationwide increase in the incidence of respiratory diseases, predominantly affecting children. Chinese authorities attributed this to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, arrival of the cold season and the circulation of known pathogens such as influenza, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
On 22 November, WHO identified media and ProMED reports about clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children’s hospitals in Beijing, Liaoning and other areas in China. WHO made an official request to China to provide additional epidemiologic and clinical information, as well as laboratory results from these reported cases and data about recent trends in circulating respiratory pathogens.
WHO also reached out through clinical networks for additional information.
On 23 November, WHO held a teleconference with Chinese health authorities from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Beijing Children’s Hospital, facilitated by the National Health Commission and the National Administration of Disease Control and Prevention, in which the requested data were provided, indicating an increase in outpatient consultations and hospital admissions of children due to Mycoplasma pneumoniae since May, and RSV, adenovirus and influenza virus since October.
Some of these increases are earlier in the season than historically experienced, but not unexpected given the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. No changes in the disease presentation were reported by the Chinese health authorities, who advised that there has been no detection of any unusual or novel pathogens or unusual clinical presentations, but only the aforementioned general increase in respiratory illnesses due to multiple known pathogens. They further stated that the rise in respiratory illness has not resulted in patient loads exceeding hospital capacities.
As part of its health response, China implemented enhanced surveillance systems from mid-October for respiratory illness covering a broad spectrum of viruses and bacteria, including Mycoplasma pneumoniae.
At this stage, WHO does not deem the risk high enough to recommend any specific measures for travellers to China. Neither does it recommend any travel or trade restrictions based on current information available.
However, it continues to closely monitor the situation, remains in close contact with national authorities in China and will continue to provide updates as warranted.
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