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WHO probes China on mysterious respiratory illness surge in children  

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The World Health Organisation has probed China for detailed information on an increase in respiratory illnesses and reported clusters of pneumonia in children.  

According to WHO, the Chinese authorities from the National Health Commission reported an increase in the incidence of respiratory diseases in China at a press conference on November 13, 2023.

The Chinese authorities attributed this increase to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the circulation of known pathogens such as influenza, mycobacterium pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus and SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19 causing virus) 

 

On November 21, 2023, media and ProMED reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children. However, it is unclear if these are associated with the overall increase reported by the Chinese authorities or separate events. 

The World Health Organisation has requested additional epidemiological and clinical information, as well as laboratory results from these reported clusters among children, through the International Health Regulations mechanism.  

The organisation has also requested further information about recent trends in the circulation of known pathogens and the current burden on the healthcare systems.  

It is also in contact with clinicians and scientists through its existing technical partnerships and networks in China.  

Since mid-October, northern China has reported an increase in influenza-like illness compared to the same period in the previous three years.  

Hospitals in Beijing and Liaoning face an influx of sick children. Unusual symptoms include lung inflammation and high fever, distinct from typical respiratory illnesses. 

Questions about transparency have emerged as both China and WHO faced scrutiny regarding reporting early COVID-19 cases in Wuhan in late 2019. 

Scientists are urging warnings regarding concerns of a potential new pandemic. The similarities between this alert and the Covid-19 alert have sparked panic, though scientists suggest it may indicate a rise in common respiratory illness or a resurgence of Covid-19 and not a new pathogen.  

According to Reuters, China has 24 hours to respond to the WHO’s request for information.   

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