Doctor’s advice whether respiratory illness spike in China is global concern

Hospitals in northern China and Beijing have seen thousands of children coming down with respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia.While children are more likely to become ill during the winter, the number of cases sparked concern.

The World Health Organization (WHO) asked China to provide more information on the emerging cases. However, the spikes don’t currently seem surprising given the lifting of Covid restrictions, according to WHO.

Fortunately, no new pathogen has been detected so far. Furthermore, there have also been no cases where children appear to be much sicker than normal.

China reported seeing an increase in pneumonia due to the bacteria Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Pneumonia refers to a lung infection that can be triggered by bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a common type of bacterial pneumonia. The country has also been seeing a rise in influenza, adenovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) since October.

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CNN wellness medical expert Dr Leana Wen, who is also an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, shared her views on the current situation.

How concerning is the surge in respiratory illnesses in China?

Dr Wen told CNN: “Thus far, based on what we know from WHO, I don’t think the spike in respiratory illnesses should cause global concern. What would be most worrisome to the international medical community is if a new pathogen is emerging, as it did in the form of COVID-19 in the winter of 2019. This does not appear to be the case now.”

Why is China seeing a surge in respiratory illnesses now?

The situation currently appears to mirror what happened in many other countries last year. Dr Wen said: “Last winter, in 2022, children’s hospitals in the US were inundated with kids who were sick with COVID-19, flu, RSV and other common viruses.

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“Much of this illness was attributed to the end of COVID-19 mitigation measures. During the peak of the pandemic, respiratory illnesses declined sharply.

“In particular, kids who otherwise would have gotten exposed to several infections a year didn’t get sick. When mitigation measures were lifted, contagious illnesses tore through schools and daycares, leading to a surge in infections among children and thus also an increase in those who required hospitalisation.”

The doctor explained that China lifted its mitigation measures later than most other countries, which could explain the current spike. “It makes sense that, in the first full winter since ending “zero Covid,” they would experience a rise in respiratory illnesses like that which much of the world experienced,” she added.

Should people avoid travelling to China right now?

The WHO advised against the “application of any travel or trade restrictions based on the current information”. It also does not recommend any specific preventive measures for people travelling to China.

However, people in China were advised to take steps to reduce the spread of respiratory illness. Dr Wen said: “That includes staying home when ill, ensuring good ventilation, practising regular hand washing and wearing masks as appropriate.”

“I think these are all reasonable and would also add that people vulnerable to severe illness from respiratory diseases should take additional precautions, including wearing an N95 or equivalent mask while in indoor, crowded places.”

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