China Pneumonia Outbreak: What You Need to Know About the Respiratory Illness Overwhelming Hospitals

China’s hospitals are experiencing a surge in cases of respiratory illnesses and sick children with pneumonia-like symptoms, drawing attention from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A children’s hospital in Beijing reported that it was admitting at least 7,000 patients daily, far more than its capacity, according to state media CCTV.

Similarly, the largest paediatric hospital in Tianjin received over 13,000 children at its outpatient and emergency departments last week.

Liaoning province, located about 690km northeast of Beijing, is also struggling with high case numbers.

The growing number of cases prompted the WHO to formally request disease data on the respiratory illnesses and clusters of pneumonia in children on Wednesday.

Chinese health authorities later stated that they did not find any “unusual or novel diseases”. Instead, they attributed the rise in infections to known viruses and the country’s first full cold season after strict Covid restrictions were lifted.

The WHO also noted that any link between clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia and an increase in respiratory infections is currently unclear.

Current Situation

Northern China has reported an increase in “influenza-like illnesses” since mid-October, compared to the same period in the previous three years, as per the WHO.

On 21 November, the public disease surveillance system ProMED issued a notification about reports of “undiagnosed pneumonia”. ProMED had previously raised the alarm over the virus that causes Covid in 2019.

Some parents in Shanghai expressed concerns about the wave of sickness, while others remained optimistic, urging people to consider the situation scientifically.

Symptoms and Infectivity

According to Chinese health authorities, the outbreak could be linked to mycoplasma pneumoniae, commonly known as “walking pneumonia,” which can lead to symptoms such as sore throat, fatigue, and a lingering cough.

Experts have suggested that there is no evidence to show that the outbreak may be a new variant of Covid, and have recommended continued surveillance and public health measures like vaccination and personal protection.

Scientific Community Response

Experts in virology and public health are calling for more diagnostic information to discern the cause of the outbreaks, emphasizing the need to carefully assess the situation while waiting for further data and analysis.


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