In recent days, local media in cities such as Xian in northwest China have been sharing videos online depicting hospitals overwhelmed with parents and children waiting to receive medical attention. Concerned about the situation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reached out to China, requesting more detailed information about the outbreak of a respiratory illness and the reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia among children.
The WHO has observed that since mid-October, northern China has experienced a surge in influenza-like illnesses compared to the same period in previous years. In response to these developments, the organization has officially asked China for additional information and laboratory results regarding the reported outbreaks among children.
While waiting for a response from the Chinese authorities, the WHO has issued recommendations for Chinese communities to take preventive measures. These measures include getting vaccinated, wearing masks, maintaining a distance from sick individuals, staying at home when feeling unwell, and practicing regular hand-washing.
Chinese authorities have attributed the increase in respiratory illnesses to a combination of factors. They include a cold snap, the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the circulation of known pathogens such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza, as well as common bacterial infections affecting children like mycoplasma pneumonia.
As the temperatures dropped in Beijing, located in the northern part of the country, the city entered a high incidence season for respiratory infectious diseases. Wang Quanyi, deputy director and chief epidemiological expert at the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention, stated that the city is currently experiencing a trend of multiple pathogens coexisting.
On Wednesday, the WHO revealed that various groups, including the Programme for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China. Children’s hospitals in Beijing and Liaoning, which are 500 miles apart, were described as “overwhelmed with sick children” in a report by Taiwanese outlet FTV News.
The WHO emphasized that it remains unclear whether these cases are linked to the overall increase in respiratory infections previously reported by Chinese authorities or if they are separate events. The organization has requested further information about the circulation of known pathogens and the impact on healthcare systems. It is actively collaborating with clinicians and scientists to gather more data.
The WHO’s office in China has described this action as a routine check. The increase in respiratory diseases was initially disclosed during a news conference held by Chinese officials from the National Health Commission last week.
The situation is being closely monitored both locally and internationally as health authorities work to understand and address the unexplained outbreak of respiratory illness among children in China.