WHO asks China for information on rise in respiratory illnesses, pneumonia
by JAMEY KEATEN and MARIA CHENG | Associated Press
FILE – Residents wearing face masks queue behind barricaded tapes for mass COVID testing near a residential area on May 15, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, file)
GENEVA (AP) —
Chinese authorities say they have not detected any “unusual or new diseases” in the country, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, following a formal request from the United Nations health agency for information on a potentially worrying increase in respiratory illnesses and pneumonia clusters among children. .
The WHO cited unspecified reports in the media and a global infectious disease monitoring service of undiagnosed cases of pneumonia in children in northern China and formally requested more details from China earlier this year. week.
Outside scientists said the situation merited close monitoring but were not convinced that the recent rise in respiratory illnesses in China signals the start of a new global epidemic.
The emergence of new strains of influenza or other viruses capable of triggering pandemics usually begins with clusters of undiagnosed respiratory illnesses. SARS and COVID-19 were first reported as unusual types of pneumonia.
The WHO noted that authorities at China’s National Health Commission reported on November 13 an increase in respiratory illnesses, which they said was due to the lifting of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Other countries also saw an increase in respiratory illnesses such as respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, when pandemic restrictions ended.
The WHO said media reports about a week later reported undiagnosed outbreaks of pneumonia in children in northern China.
The UN agency said it held a teleconference with Chinese health officials on Thursday, during which it was provided with the requested data. These showed an increase in child hospitalizations due to illnesses such as bacterial infections, RSV, influenza and cold viruses since October.
No change in disease presentation has been reported by Chinese health authorities,” the WHO said. It added that Chinese officials said the increase in patients had not overloaded hospitals from the country.
Dr Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia, doubts the wave of infections is triggered by a new disease.
“If this were a new disease, I would expect to see many more infections among adults,” he said in a statement. “The few infections reported in adults suggest existing immunity from previous exposure.”
François Balloux, of University College London, said China was likely experiencing a significant wave of childhood infections since it was the first winter since lockdown restrictions were lifted, which likely reduced children’s immunity against common microbes.
The WHO said northern China reported an increase in cases of flu-like illnesses since mid-October compared to the previous three years. It is rare for the UN health agency to publicly request more detailed information from countries, as such requests are usually made internally. The WHO said it had requested additional data from China through an international legal mechanism.
According to internal reports in China, outbreaks have flooded some hospitals in northern China, including Beijing, and health authorities have asked the public to take children with less severe symptoms to clinics and other facilities.
The average number of patients in the internal medicine department of Beijing Children’s Hospital has exceeded 7,000 per day, exceeding the hospital’s capacity, China National Radio said in an online article earlier this week.
China’s National Health Commission, in a written question-and-answer session published online by the official Xinhua news agency, suggested Thursday that children with mild symptoms “visit health care facilities first.” primary or pediatric wards of general hospitals” because large hospitals are crowded and have long waiting times.
The WHO said there was too little information at the moment to properly assess the risk of these reported cases of respiratory illnesses in children. The agency has already been hamstrung by countries’ lack of cooperation when new viruses emerged, notably in China.
After SARS broke out in southern China in 2002, authorities in Beijing asked doctors to hide their patients, with some being transported by ambulance while WHO scientists visited the country. This prompted the WHO to threaten to close its office in China.
Nearly two decades later, China was slow to share critical details about the coronavirus with the United Nations health agency after the novel virus emerged in late 2019. The WHO publicly applauded China’s commitment to stop the virus – weeks before it starts causing explosive outbreaks around the world.
“While WHO seeks this additional information, we recommend that Chinese people follow measures to reduce the risk of respiratory illness,” the agency said, advising people to get vaccinated, self-isolate if they feel ill, wear masks if necessary and seek treatment. as required.