WHO statement on reported clusters of respiratory illness in children in northern China

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WHO has made an official request to China for detailed information on an increase in respiratory illnesses and reported clusters of pneumonia in children.   At a press conference on 13 November 2023, Chinese authorities from the National Health Commission reported an increase in incidence of respiratory diseases in China. Chinese authorities […]

WHO has made an official request
to China for detailed information on an increase in respiratory illnesses
and reported clusters of pneumonia in children.  

At a press conference on 13
November 2023, Chinese authorities from the National Health Commission reported
an increase in incidence of respiratory diseases in China. Chinese authorities
attributed this increase to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the
circulation of known pathogens such as influenza, mycoplasma pneumoniae (a
common bacterial infection which typically affects younger children),
respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes
COVID-19). Authorities stressed the need for enhanced disease surveillance
in healthcare facilities and community settings, as well as
strengthening the capacity of the health system to manage patients.   

On 21 November, media and ProMED
reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China. It is
unclear if these are associated with the overall increase in
respiratory infections previously reported by Chinese authorities, or separate
events. 

On 22 November, WHO requested
additional epidemiologic and clinical information, as well as laboratory
results from these reported clusters among children, through the International
Health Regulations mechanism. We have also requested further
information about recent trends in the circulation of known pathogens
including influenza, SARS-CoV-2, RSV and mycoplasma pneumoniae, and the current
burden on health care systems. WHO is also in contact with clinicians and
scientists through our existing technical partnerships and networks in
China.  

Since mid-October, northern China
has reported an increase in influenza-like illness compared to the same period
in the previous three years. China has systems in place to capture information
on trends in influenza, influenza-like illnesses, RSV and SARS-CoV-2, and
reports to platforms such as the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response
System.   

While WHO
seeks this additional information, we recommend that people in China follow
measures to reduce the risk of respiratory illness, which include recommended
vaccination; keeping distance from people who are ill; staying home when ill;
getting tested and medical care as needed; wearing masks as appropriate;
ensuring good ventilation; and regular hand-washing.   

WHO will continue to provide
updates.   

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