The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised concerns regarding a troubling scenario in China due to a sudden increase in respiratory illnesses among children. The UN health agency has requested disease data from China. However, as of Friday (Nov 24), Beijing asserted that no uncommon or new pathogens had been identified.
The cases among children came as a scare as the world is still recovering from the effects of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which killed millions and left a million others with symptoms of long Covid.
The first known case of Covid was reported in China towards the end of 2019, but the exact origin of the virus was never identified in the absence of lack of proper and accurate data.
When the virus started to spread, it was declared a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020. After an uncontrolled spread of the virus, the outbreak became a pandemic in a few weeks time.
Health experts have often said that the Covid pandemic was not a one-off thing, something like that may happen again and the world should be prepared for it. But no one said exactly when.
And the recent reports of an increase in “influenza-like illness” in China since mid-October have scared people globally.
What do we know about the respiratory illness in China?
The WHO said Thursday (Nov 23) that Chinese authorities had responded, advising “that there has been no detection of any unusual or novel pathogens or unusual clinical presentations, including in Beijing and Liaoning”.
China’s National Health Commission told reporters last week that the respiratory illness spike was due to the lifting of the Covid measures and the circulation of known pathogens, namely influenza and common bacterial infections that affect children, including mycoplasma pneumonia.
To know more about the situation WION reached out to health experts. Dr Sushila Kataria, who is the Senior Director of Internal Medicine at Medanta in Gurugram, said that the recent cases in China prompted concerns “reminiscent of the events in November and December 2019”.
She said that the Chinese government has clarified that these cases are attributed to known pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, including the influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus, some Covid cases, and some mycoplasma cases.
“Given that the incidence of pneumonia typically increases during winter, it is hoped that this surge is seasonal,” Dr Kataria said.
What are the common symptoms?
Dr Himanshu Batra, who is a consultant in Pediatrics at HCMCT Manipal Hospital in New Delhi’s Dwarka, said that pneumonia is a respiratory infection of the lungs. The common symptoms of pneumonia are fever, fast breathing, poor appetite, vomiting, and coughing, which may produce greenish, yellow or even bloody mucus.
There are some cases of atypical pneumonia, fever gradually increases, and coughing is prominent. Experts then go for a chest X-ray and a few blood tests.
Dr Batra said that what is happening in China is that a lot of children are getting hospitalised because of pneumonia. “The organism they have identified looks like it is Mycoplasma pneumonia,” he said, further adding that it is usually seen mostly in children who are “more than five years old, school-age children, not in small infants and younger children”.
WHO has urged people to take preventative measures, including getting vaccinated, keeping distance from sick people and wearing masks.
Dr Ritesh Yadav, consultant in Internal Medicine at Paras Health in Gurugram, responded to the WHO process, as he said: “The WHO routinely seeks clarity on infectious clusters worldwide, yet public appeals indicate potential concerns over transparency.”