The World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that China has not detected any “unusual or novel pathogens” in recent clusters of child pneumonia cases. Beijing attributed the increase in flu-like illnesses to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Although the WHO requested more data on the cases, it urged residents in China to take precautions, such as vaccination and mask-wearing.
The WHO’s statement came after media reports and global outbreak surveillance systems highlighted clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia cases in northern China. While pneumonia can result from various viruses, bacteria, or fungi, the WHO sought clarification on the nature of the reported cases.
In response to the WHO’s request, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) officials stated they were closely monitoring the diagnosis and care of children with respiratory illnesses.
The WHO later confirmed that China had not identified any unusual or novel pathogens and attributed the increased respiratory illnesses to “multiple known pathogens.” Since October, northern China has reported an uptick in influenza-like illness, a trend linked to the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions. The WHO emphasised its close monitoring of the situation and ongoing communication with Chinese authorities.
While concerns arise with any wave of infection in China due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO routinely seeks additional information about clusters of illnesses. The organisation continuously reviews media reports and surveillance data to assess potential public health emergencies.
The transparency in publicly announcing the request for information reflects the WHO’s efforts to keep the public informed, especially given the heightened sensitivity around viruses in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UK’s health security agency is also closely monitoring the situation.
China’s NHC previously acknowledged a rise in respiratory diseases, including influenza, COVID-19, mycoplasma pneumoniae, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), attributing the surge to lifted COVID-19 restrictions. Similar increases in flu-like illnesses occurred in other countries, such as the UK and the US, when pandemic restrictions were eased.
Experts suggest that China may be experiencing a significant wave of childhood respiratory infections due to reduced immunity after lengthy lockdowns, potentially impacting the circulation of respiratory bugs. Despite ongoing investigations, the limited information suggests that the infections may not be caused by a novel virus, as adults exhibit fewer reported infections.