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WHO statement on reported increases in respiratory disease in children in northern China

Increasing Pneumonia Cases in China

WHO (World Health Organization) has made a formal request to China for detailed information about the increase in respiratory diseases and reported cases of pneumonia in children.

At a press conference held on November 13, 2023, Chinese officials from the National Health Commission reported an increase in cases 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 pneumonia (a common bacterial infection that typically affects young children), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2. (the virus that causes COVID-19). Officials emphasized the need for improved disease surveillance in healthcare facilities and community settings, as well as strengthening the healthcare system's capacity to manage patients.

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

On 22 November, WHO requested additional epidemiological and clinical information, as well as laboratory results, on these cases reported among children through the International Health Regulations mechanism. We also requested more information on recent trends in the circulation of known pathogens, including influenza, SARS-CoV-2, RSV and Mycoplasma pneumoniae, and the current burden on healthcare systems. WHO is also engaging with clinicians and scientists through our existing technical partnerships and networks in China.

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

While WHO seeks this additional information, we recommend that people in China follow precautions to reduce the risk of respiratory disease, including recommended vaccinations; staying away from sick people; staying home when sick; getting tested and medical care when necessary; wearing a mask appropriately; ensuring good ventilation; and regular hand washing.

WHO will continue to provide updates.


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