No unusual diseases, says China after WHO highlights rise in respiratory illness

23 November 2023, 20:04

WHO China Pneumonia
WHO China Pneumonia. Picture: PA

The UN agency said it held a teleconference with Chinese health officials on Thursday.

Chinese officials say they have not detected any “unusual or novel diseases”, the World Health Organisation said, after an official request by the UN health agency for information about a spike in respiratory illnesses and clusters of pneumonia in children.

WHO cited unspecified media reports and a global infectious disease monitoring service as reporting clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China and formally requested more details earlier this week.

Outside scientists said the situation warranted close monitoring, but were not convinced that the spike in respiratory illnesses signalled the start of a new global outbreak.

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

WHO noted that authorities at China’s National Health Commission on November 13 reported an increase in respiratory diseases, which they said was due to the lifting of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

Other countries also saw a jump in respiratory diseases such as respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, when pandemic restrictions ended.

WHO said media reports about a week later reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China.

The UN agency said it held a teleconference with Chinese health officials on Thursday, during which the data it requested was provided. It showed an increase in hospital admissions of children due to diseases including bacterial infection, RSV, influenza and common cold viruses since October.

“No changes in the disease presentation were reported by the Chinese health authorities,” WHO said. It added that Chinese officials said the spike in patients had not overloaded the country’s hospitals.

Dr Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia, doubted the wave of infections was sparked by a new disease.

“If it was (a new disease), I would expect to see many more infections in adults,” he said. “The few infections reported in adults suggest existing immunity from a prior exposure.”

Francois Balloux of University College London said China was probably experiencing a significant wave of childhood infections because this was the first winter since lockdown restrictions were lifted, which is likely to have reduced children’s immunity to common bugs.

WHO said northern China has reported a jump in influenza-like illnesses since mid-October compared with the previous three years.

It is rare for the UN health agency to publicly ask for more detailed information from countries, as such requests are typically made internally. WHO said it requested further data from China through an international legal mechanism.

According to internal accounts in China, the outbreaks have swamped some hospitals in northern China, including in Beijing, and health authorities have asked the public to take children with less severe symptoms to clinics and other facilities.

The average number of patients in the internal medicine department at Beijing Children’s Hospital topped 7,000 per day, exceeding the hospital’s capacity, state-owned China National Radio said in an online article earlier this week.

By Press Association

Latest World News

See more Latest World News

Hungarian parliament

Hungary’s parliament votes to ratify Sweden’s application to join Nato

St. Vincent Grenada Hijacked Yacht

Hijackers threw elderly couple overboard after capturing yacht, police say

Father Felice Palamara was presiding over Mass in the small town of Cessaniti, Calabria, in the southern region of Italy when he noticed an acrid smell coming from the wine

Priest handed poisoned chalice after mafia hitman spikes holy communion wine with bleach

WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Global economy weighed down by war, uncertainty and instability, says WTO chief

Donald Trump and his lawyers

Trump to appeal against £350m judgment made against him in fraud lawsuit

Damaged buildings seen after Russian forces completed their takeover of Avdiivka

Ukrainian troops pull back again amid Russia’s onslaught in east of country

Tunisian Imam Mahjoub Mahjoubi speaks at his home in the town of Soliman, February 23

Imam deported from France after labelling tricolore flag 'satanic' despite living in the country for 40 years

Gerard Depardieu

French actor Gerard Depardieu faces another sexual assault complaint

A Lebanese army vehicle blocks a road leading to a warehouse which was destroyed by Israeli air strikes

Israel’s air force attacks Hezbollah targets ‘deep inside Lebanon’

The protester identified himself as Aaron Bushnell, 25

US airman Aaron Bushnell, 25, dies after setting himself on fire in protest over Gaza war

The Norwegian Dawn has been banned from docking.

Cruise ship 'hit with cholera outbreak': Thousands stuck 'floating aimlessly' in quarantine off Africa coast

A protest by farmers outside a meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Brussels

Angry farmers clash with police near EU’s headquarters in fresh show of force

Tributes to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Prisoner swap for Navalny was in final stages before his death, associate says

The boys were trapped in the cave for several weeks

What happened to the Thai cave rescue boys and where are they now?

Japan's robotic rover on the Moon

Moon lander sent by Japan survives second lunar night

Palestinian PM Mohammad Shtayyeh has stepped down from Government due to the ongoing conflict

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh resigns amid calls for reform