The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Thursday that China did not identify any novel pathogens in response to increased pneumonia clusters in children.
Reuters reports that China promptly responded within 24 hours, providing epidemiological, clinical, and laboratory data through the International Health Regulations mechanism. This follows the WHO's request for more information from China after concerns were raised by groups like the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED).
According to the data, the spike in respiratory illness correlates with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the prevalence of known pathogens such as mycoplasma pneumoniae, influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and adenovirus.
The WHO does not currently advise against travel and trade and has been closely monitoring the situation in collaboration with Chinese authorities. No unusual pathogens have been detected in Beijing or the northeastern province of Liaoning.
On November 13, Chinese authorities from the National Health Commission held a press conference to report an uptick in respiratory diseases. Both China and the WHO have previously faced scrutiny over transparency in reporting early COVID-19 cases in Wuhan in late 2019.
The WHO has requested further information from China about trends in known pathogen circulation and health-care system impacts. They have remained in contact with clinicians and scientists in China through technical partnerships and networks.
WHO China clarified that requesting information on increases in respiratory illnesses and pneumonia clusters is routine for member states, and the decision to issue a statement on China was driven by numerous media inquiries.
The ProMED alert that initially sparked concerns were based on a report by FTV News in Taiwan. However, last week's press conference did not explicitly mention undiagnosed pneumonia. Speakers at the conference noted a cyclical pattern in outbreaks of mycoplasma pneumoniae, occurring every three to seven years.
With China entering its first full winter since easing strict COVID-19 restrictions in December, similar increases in respiratory diseases have been observed in other countries post-pandemic measures. Epidemiologist Ben Cowling from Hong Kong University suggested that the current surge could be a seasonal spike, compounded by an 'immunity debt' due to lesser winter surges in the past three years.
The National Health Commission has not yet commented on the WHO notice. It recently published an interview advising parents on handling the surge in respiratory illnesses and acknowledging longer waiting times at hospitals.
The WHO, while seeking additional information, recommended that people in China follow measures to reduce respiratory illness risks, including vaccination, staying away from sick individuals, home isolation when ill, testing and medical care, mask-wearing, good ventilation, and regular handwashing.