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Recently, China has observed an increase in respiratory illnesses and pneumonia, drawing global health authorities’ attention amidst concerns of a potential repeat of the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Initially, Chinese officials linked this rise to the easing of COVID-19 measures and the spread of familiar pathogens. 

They claimed that these pathogens include influenza, mycoplasma pneumonia (a bacterial infection common in young children), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19.

On Thursday (23 November 2023), the WHO confirmed that Chinese health officials have not identified any new or unusual disease-causing pathogens. 

Increase in Respiratory Illnesses and Pneumonia Among Children in Northern China

This update followed the provision of detailed data regarding a rise in respiratory illnesses and instances of pneumonia among children. 

This response came after the WHO’s request on 22 November 2023 for more information, prompted by reports from groups like the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED) about unexplained cases of pneumonia in children in northern China.

Complying with international health protocols, China has responded to the WHO within the mandated 24-hour timeframe. 

The WHO had specifically requested epidemiological and clinical details and laboratory findings under the International Health Regulations framework.

The data indicates that the surge in respiratory illnesses is associated with the relaxation of COVID-19 measures and familiar pathogens such as mycoplasma pneumoniae. 

This common bacterial infection mainly targets younger children and has been prevalent since May.

Other viruses like influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and adenovirus have been active since October.

The health agency has decided not to recommend any restrictions on travel and trade as they continue to monitor the situation with local authorities closely.

No Unusual Pathogens Identified in Beijing

Furthermore, no unusual pathogens have been identified in Beijing, the capital city, or the northeastern province of Liaoning.

On 13 November, officials from the National Health Commission of China held a press briefing to address the rising cases of respiratory diseases in the country. 

Additionally, the WHO requested more details from China about the patterns in the spread of known pathogens and the impact on their healthcare systems. 

The WHO also confirmed that it maintains active communication with medical professionals and scientists in China through its existing technical collaborations and networks.

WHO China explained that it is standard practice to request updates on spikes in respiratory illnesses and reported pneumonia clusters in children from its member countries, including China.

Nonetheless, the organisation continues to encourage residents in China to take preventive measures, such as receiving vaccinations and wearing masks, to safeguard their health.

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