China Claims No ‘Unusual Or Novel Pathogens’ After WHO Queries Respiratory Outbreaks

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The World Health Organization has stated that China has not reported any “unusual or novel pathogens” in clusters of pediatric pneumonia cases.

The WHO, which had asked for more information on the cases, said Beijing had linked the lifting of Covid curbs to an increase in flu-like illnesses.

Nevertheless, it advised Chinese citizens to exercise caution by donning masks and getting vaccinated.

Recently, the local media had reported that hospitals were overcrowded.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement on Wednesday that it had asked China for further details regarding media and ProMed (a global outbreak surveillance system) reports of “clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China”.

The word “pneumonia” in general medicine refers to lung inflammation and infection. Numerous viruses, bacteria, or fungi can cause it.

Following the World Health Organization’s request, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) officials were quoted in a state-run Xinhua news agency article as saying they were closely monitoring the diagnosis and treatment of children with respiratory illnesses.

In a statement, the WHO stated that “multiple known pathogens” were to blame for the rise in respiratory illnesses spreading throughout China’s north, and that no “unusual or novel pathogens” had been found there.

In comparison to the same period over the previous three years, northern China has reported a “increase in influenza-like illness” since October, according to the WHO.

“Some of these increases are earlier in the season than historically experienced, but not unexpected given the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, as similarly experienced in other countries,” the statement said.

The WHO said it is “closely monitoring the situation and is in close contact with national authorities in China”.

While the WHO’s request for clarification is a good practice, hearing about China and an infectious wave can make people uneasy because it triggers memories of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is also not unusual for the WHO to ask countries for more information about a cluster of illnesses. They practically always do this.

Every day, a specialized WHO team goes through thousands of media reports and national internal surveillance data on diseases that are currently in circulation. Subsequently, specialists determine whether further data is required in case this develops into a potentially global public health emergency.

However, making the request for additional information public is unusual. Traditionally, the WHO and national health officials have conducted this through private channels.

The UN organization is undoubtedly aware that, in light of the recent history of Covid-19, people may be more wary of viruses that have been reported in China. In the wake of the pandemic, the WHO is also attempting to be more open.

The UK Health Security Authority (UKHSA) declared that it was keeping a careful eye on the circumstances.

The Chinese National Health Commission (NHC) reported last week that a number of respiratory illnesses had increased nationwide, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), mycoplasma pneumoniae (a common bacterial infection that affects younger children), influenza, and Covid.

The increase was ascribed by officials to the relaxation of Covid limitations.

Following the lifting of pandemic restrictions, similar increases in flu-like illnesses were observed in other countries, such as the US and the UK.

“China is likely experiencing a major wave of childhood respiratory infections now as this is the first winter after their lengthy lockdown, which must have drastically reduced the circulation of respiratory bugs, and hence decreased immunity to endemic bugs,” said Prof Francois Balloux of the University College of London Genetics Institute.

According to Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia (UEA), there is currently insufficient data to determine with certainty what is causing the infections.

He added: “Overall, this does not sound to me like an epidemic due to a novel [new] virus. If it was, I would expect to see many more infections in adults. The few infections reported in adults suggest existing immunity from a prior exposure.”