Clusters of Respiratory Illness in Children in Northern China – The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially requested China to provide more information on the rise of respiratory illnesses and reports of clusters of pneumonia among children. At a press conference held on November 13, 2023, China’s National Health Commission said that there has been an increase in respiratory diseases in the country.
Chinese authorities have attributed the rise to the end of the pandemic and the spread of known pathogens like influenza, mycoplasmosis pneumoniae (a bacterial infection that mostly affects young children), rhinovirus (RSV) and coronavirus (SARS-2). They also emphasized the need for better disease surveillance in hospitals and other community settings, and to strengthen the health system’s ability 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, the World Health Organization (WHO) requested additional epidemiological and clinical data as well as laboratory data from reported clusters among children under the International Health Regulations (IHR) mechanism. The WHO also asked for further information on recent trends in the circulation of well-known pathogens such as influenza (flu), SARS-Cholera (sARS-V-2), RSV (rheumatic fever), and Mycoplasma pneumonia (mycocoplasma pneumoniae), as well as the current burden on healthcare systems. WHO also contacts clinicians and scientists through its existing technical partnerships and network in China.
There has been an increase in the number of cases of influenza-like illness in northern China since mid-October compared to the same time period in the past three years. China already has systems in place that capture data on trends in influenza (flu), influenza-like illnesses (rhesus-virus), RSV (sARS-virus) and SARS-v-2, as well as reports to platforms like 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.