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The WHO has requested additional information from China regarding recent cases of illness and clusters of pneumonia.
Science & Health

The WHO has requested additional information from China regarding recent cases of illness and clusters of pneumonia.

Chinese authorities reported to the World Health Organization on Thursday that they did not discover any unfamiliar or new illnesses in the nation. The U.N. health agency had requested details after observing a possible increase in respiratory illnesses and cases of pneumonia among children.

The World Health Organization (WHO) mentioned unconfirmed media sources and an international disease tracking organization as reporting cases of unidentified pneumonia in children in northern China. They have officially asked for further information from China earlier this week.

External experts stated that the circumstances merited careful observation, however, they were not persuaded that the recent increase in respiratory illnesses in China indicated the beginning of a worldwide epidemic.

The emergence of new flu strains or other viruses capable of triggering pandemics typically starts with undiagnosed clusters of respiratory illness. Both SARS and COVID-19 were first reported as unusual types of pneumonia.

The World Health Organization reported that on November 13, China’s National Health Commission announced a rise in respiratory illnesses after the lifting of COVID-19 lockdown measures. Other countries also experienced an increase in respiratory diseases, specifically respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), after easing pandemic restrictions.

According to WHO, approximately one week later, news outlets revealed instances of unexplained pneumonia in young individuals in the northern region of China.

The United Nations organization reported conducting a remote meeting with health authorities in China on Thursday, during which they received the requested information. The data revealed a rise in hospital admissions of children for various illnesses, such as bacterial infections, RSV, influenza, and common cold viruses, since October.

The World Health Organization stated that the Chinese health authorities did not report any changes in the presentation of the disease. Additionally, Chinese officials confirmed that the increase in patients did not overwhelm the country’s hospitals.

New disease doubted

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia in Britain, expressed skepticism about the recent surge in infections being caused by a novel disease.

In a statement, the speaker stated that if it were a novel illness, there would likely be a higher number of adult infections. However, the limited number of adult infections reported indicates that there may be preexisting immunity from a previous exposure.

According to Francois Balloux from University College London, China may be facing a notable increase in childhood infections due to the recent lifting of lockdown measures and the arrival of winter. This could possibly result in a decrease in children’s immunity to common illnesses.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that there has been an increase in flu-like sickness in northern China starting in mid-October, which is higher than the numbers from the past three years. The U.N. health agency rarely asks for additional information from countries publicly and usually does so internally. However, in this case, WHO has requested for more specific data from China through an international legal process.

Based on reports from within China, there have been a high number of cases in hospitals in the northern region, particularly in Beijing. Health officials have advised the public to bring children with milder symptoms to clinics and other healthcare facilities.

According to an online article published earlier this week by state-owned China National Radio, the daily number of patients in Beijing Children’s Hospital’s internal medicine department has surpassed 7,000, surpassing the hospital’s maximum capacity.

The National Health Commission of China, through a written Q&A published on the official Xinhua News Agency website, advised on Thursday that children with mild symptoms should initially go to primary healthcare facilities or pediatric departments in general hospitals. This is due to the overcrowding and long wait times at larger hospitals.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that there is currently insufficient data to accurately evaluate the danger of the reported instances of breathing issues in children. The organization has faced difficulties in the past due to a lack of cooperation from countries, especially China, when dealing with new viruses.

Following the outbreak of SARS in southern China in 2002, officials in Beijing instructed doctors to conceal patients, even resorting to transporting them in ambulances during visits from WHO scientists. This led to the WHO threatening to shut down its office in China.

After almost twenty years, China delayed in disclosing crucial information about the coronavirus to the United Nations’ health organization following the emergence of the new virus in late 2019. The WHO praised China’s efforts to contain the virus in public, prior to its rapid spread and widespread outbreaks globally.

“As WHO requests this extra data, we suggest that individuals in China take precautions to minimize the chances of respiratory illness,” the organization stated, urging individuals to receive vaccinations, isolate themselves if experiencing symptoms, wear masks if necessary, and seek medical attention as necessary.