Nov 23 (Reuters) – Chinese health authorities have not detected any unusual or novel pathogens and have not provided requested data on an increase in respiratory illnesses and clusters of pneumonia in children, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
The WHO asked China for more information on Wednesday after groups including the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED) reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia among children in northern China.
As per the rule, China responded to the WHO within 24 hours. The World Health Organization requested epidemiological and clinical data and laboratory results through the International Health Regulatory Mechanism.
The data suggest that the increase is linked to the deregulation of Covid-19 with the circulation of known pathogens such as mycoplasma pneumoniae, a common bacterial infection that typically affects younger children and has been circulating since May.
Influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and adenovirus have been circulating since October.
The company does not advise against travel and trade as they are monitoring the situation with authorities.
No unusual pathogens were detected in the capital city of Beijing and the northeastern province of Liaoning.
Chinese officials from the National Health Commission held a press conference on November 13 to report on the rise in respiratory diseases.
Both China and the WHO have faced questions about the transparency of reporting on the earliest cases of COVID-19 that appeared in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The UN health agency has asked China for more information on trends in the circulation of known pathogens and the burden on health systems. The WHO said it is in touch with doctors and scientists through existing technical partnerships and networks in China.
WHO China said it was “routine” to request information on increases in respiratory illnesses and clusters of pneumonia among children from member countries such as China.
The global agency decided to issue a statement about China to share available information after receiving several inquiries from the media, WHO China said in an emailed statement.
The ProMED warning was based on a report by FTV News in Taiwan that appeared on Tuesday.
According to a transcript, undiagnosed pneumonia was not mentioned at last week’s press conference, but a speaker said everyone felt that respiratory illnesses had increased this year compared to three years ago.
Global surveillance for Mycoplasma pneumoniae has been low over the past three years and outbreaks are cyclical, occurring every three to seven years, the spokesperson said.
The rise in respiratory illnesses comes as China braces for its first full winter since lifting strict COVID-19 restrictions in December. After easing pandemic measures, many countries have seen similar increases in respiratory illnesses.
“This is a relatively large seasonal surge, possibly due to chance and partly because of ‘immunity debt’ from fewer winter surges in the past three years,” said Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong.
China’s National Health Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Thursday, it published an interview with state media agency Xinhua in which it advised parents what to do and noted that larger hospitals receive more patients and wait times are longer. The WHO did not comment on the announcement.
Since mid-October, the WHO has reported an increase in flu-like illness in northern China compared to the same period in the previous three years.
It said China has systems in place to capture information on trends in disease incidence and report that data to platforms such as the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System.
In recent days, media outlets in cities such as Xi’an in the northwest have published videos of hospitals filled with parents and children.
Some social media users have posted photos of children doing homework while receiving intravenous drips at the hospital.
While WHO seeks more information, it recommends that people in China adopt measures to reduce the risk of respiratory disease.
These include vaccination, keeping a distance from sick people, staying home when sick, testing and medical care, wearing appropriate masks, ensuring good ventilation and regular hand washing.
Reporting by Deena Beasley in Los Angeles, Andrew Silver in Shanghai, Jennifer Rigby in London and Emma Farge in Geneva, Urvi Duggar in Bangalore; Editing by Robert Birzel, Myeong Kim and Josie Gao
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