Nobody Panic: W.H.O. Says no ‘Unusual or Novel Pathogens’ Found in New China Respiratory Outbreaks

Parents with children who are suffering from respiratory diseases are lining up at a child
Costfoto/NurPhoto via Getty

No unusual or novel pathogens had been detected in clusters of child pneumonia cases now being reported in China, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) said Thursday, as it sought to immediately allay fears of any prospect of a new global pandemic.

Beijing has attributed a rise in flu-like illnesses to the lifting of coronavirus curbs, said the W.H.O., which had requested more data on the cases.

In the interim China has told citizens to take precautions, including getting vaccinated and wearing masks until further notice.

Local media had in recent days reported hospitals being overwhelmed, the BBC reports.

Parents with children who are suffering from respiratory diseases are lining up at a children’s hospital in Chongqing, China, on November 23, 2023. (Photo by Costfoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In a statement on Wednesday, the W.H.O. said it requested China for more information on reports in the media and from ProMed – a global outbreak surveillance system – of “clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China.”

Pneumonia is a general medical term used to describe an infection and inflammation of the lungs. It can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria or fungi, the W.H.O. outlined.

A children’s hospital in Chongqing, China, shows crowded public areas and parents caring for children with respiratory illnesses on November 23, 2023.  (Costfoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

After the WHO’s request, state-run Xinhua news agency published an article which quoted officials of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) as saying they were paying close attention to the diagnosis and care of children with respiratory illnesses.

Later on Thursday, the W.H.O. said in a statement China has not detected any “unusual or novel pathogens” and that the increase in respiratory illnesses spreading in the north of the country was due to “multiple known pathogens.”

Suorthern China has reported an “increase in influenza-like illness” in the last six weeks compared to the same period over the past three years, the W.H.O. said.

“Some of these increases are earlier in the season than historically experienced, but not unexpected given the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, as similarly experienced in other countries,” the statement said.

A doctor draws blood from a patient’s finger at a hospital emergency department in Shanghai, China, November 14, 2023. Shanghai is reporting a high rate of  influenza and mycoplasma pneumonia infections. (Costfoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The W.H.O. said the world is assured it is “closely monitoring the situation and is in close contact with national authorities in China.”

Bruce Thompson, head of the Melbourne School of Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne, told AFP  very preliminary data suggested there was nothing out of the ordinary in the current China outbreak.

“At this stage, there is nothing to suggest that it may be a new variant of COVID,” he said. “One thing to note is that we can be reassured that the surveillance processes are working, which is a very good thing.”

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