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Global concerns arise as China braces for another ‘epidemic’

The world is still recuperating from the aftershocks of Coronavirus, often referred to as Wuhan Virus due to its alleged origins, another mysterious illness with symptoms similar to pneumonia is spreading at an alarming rate in China.

2.       The mystery illness has mostly affected the children as the local hospitals are overwhelmed by outpouring of patients in China. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been keeping a close watch on upsurge of respiratory illnesses among children especially in Northern China where cases are multiplying in clusters. The China’s Health Commission has asked its citizens to refrain from pushing the panic button as they claimed that due to relaxation in Covid-19 restrictions and advent of cold season multiple known pathogens such as influenza, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) have been triggered.

3.       As per WHO, On 21 November 2023, Chinese media and Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED) reported that children of very young age were falling sick due to undiagnosed pneumonia. The actual problem is that it is unclear whether this spurt in cases is a normal hike in respiratory diseases or a separate event. Chinese authorities have claimed that there can also be a possibility that immunity of Chinese people to common bugs have been reduced after COVID outbreak. 

4.       In an editor’s note, ProMed said: “This report suggests a widespread outbreak of an undiagnosed respiratory illness. It is not at all clear when this outbreak started, as it would be unusual for so many children to be affected so quickly. The report does not say that any adults were affected, suggesting some exposure at the schools.It is too early to project whether this could be another pandemic, but as per an influenza virologist at ProMed, the pandemic clock is ticking; we just do not know what time it is.”

5.       ProMed is a reputed surveillance system engaged in conducting reporting of infectious disease outbreaks around the world, and China has been on its radar ever since

COVID-19 has haunted the world. Taiwan’s FTV News has also reported that hospitals in Beijing and Liaoning have both been seen similar outbreak of “mystery pneumonia” in children. Although, these two cities lie 800kilometers apart, the rapid expansion in cases is not being seen as a local outbreak. The news piece further suggests that there is a global monitoring for mycoplasma pneumoniae and spread of disease was low from past three years and outbreaks were cyclical, and the cycle of its occurrence runs every three to seven years.

6.       The WHO had immediately sought clarity from China onceProMED reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in north China. Chinese authorities were quick to respond adhering to the 24-hour timeline and presented epidemiologic and clinical information as well as laboratory results as per the International Health Regulations mechanism.

7.       China had been accused of hiding information from the world after the COVID-19 outbreak emerging from the central Chinese city of Wuhan in the year 2019. Therefore, the world agencies such as the UN health agency and the WHO closely monitoring the trends of this mystery illness. The WHO is in direct contact with healthcare professionalsvia its extended technical partnerships and networks in China.

8.       According to surveillance data reported to WHO’s FluNet and published by the National Influenza Centre in China, influenza-like illness was above usual levels for this time of year and increasing in the northern provinces. Influenza detections were predominantly A(H3N2) and B/Victoria lineage viruses.

9.       As China grapples with its current health emergency the health ministry in neighboring India informed that it has taken cognizance of the rising cases but feels that there is low risk to India. Amid all the questioning from the global agencies China has ruled out emergence of a new or unknown pathogen and noted that so far no death has been reported from its soil.

10.      Based on the information provided by Chinese health agencies, WHO has recommended that people in China should practice caution to avoid the risk of getting infected by any respiratory illness. The prescribed measures include vaccinationagainst influenza; social distancing from the patients who are ill; staying indoors; getting tested as and when required; wearing masks as appropriate; ensuring good ventilation; and practicing regular handwashing.

11.      WHO has also asked travelers to refrain from coming to China. In general, persons should avoid travel while experiencing symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness, if possible; in case of symptoms during or after travel, travelers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share travel history with their health care provider.

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