China releases new information as hospitals 'overrun' with children suffering 'respiratory illness'

China mystery illness

People waiting outside children's hospital in Beijing

Emily Fox

By Emily Fox

Published: 24/11/2023

- 11:25

Updated: 24/11/2023

- 13:03

Hospitals in Beijing and northern China have been overrun with children suffering 'clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia,'

China has released new information after the World Health Organisation demanded more detail on a 'mystery' respiratory illness attacking children in the country.

Hospitals in Beijing and northern China have been overrun with children suffering 'clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia,' according to reports in China.

China called for vigilance as the surge of respiratory illness hit schools and hospitals.

The WHO said it requested China for more information from ProMed - a global outbreak surveillance system. It also urged residents in China to take precautions, like getting vaccinated and wearing masks.

State-run Xinhua news agency published an article which quoted officials of China's National Health Commission (NHC) confirming they were paying close attention to the diagnosis and care of children with respiratory illnesses.

china mystery illness

Man wheels a child out of hospital in Beijing


Wait times for doctors in Bejing are currently stretching for hours with hundreds of patients waiting at children's hospitals across major cities in northern China.

An official at the Beijing Children’s Hospital told state media that they are receiving around 7,000 daily patients - a number which "far exceeds the hospital’s capacity."

The largest pediatric hospital in nearby Tianjin received more than 13,000 children at its outpatient and emergency departments, according to a local state-run outlet.

The surge in cases across northern China comes amid a rise in seasonal respiratory infections around the northern hemisphere, including in the UK and USA, where RSV is spreading at "unprecedented" levels among children, according to CNN.

WHO said in a statement that China has not detected any "unusual or novel pathogens", and that the increase in respiratory illnesses spreading in the north of the country was due to "multiple known pathogens".

WHO confirmed it was "closely monitoring the situation and is in close contact with national authorities in China."

Both China and the WHO have faced questions about the transparency of reporting on the earliest COVID-19 cases that emerged in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.

On Thursday, the WHO said China had responded to its request and the data it provided suggested the cases were linked to the lifting of COVID curbs along with the circulation of known pathogens like mycoplasma pneumoniae, a common bacterial infection that typically affects children, which has circulated since May.

This month, authorities began issuing health advisories saying they were paying attention to the situation and warning the public of long waits and the risk of cross-infection at crowded hospitals but they have not imposed measures like the ones during the COVID pandemic, such as masks or closing schools.

There has been no indication of any undue public alarm.

Bruce Thompson, head of the Melbourne School of Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne, said very preliminary data suggested there was nothing out of the ordinary.

"At this stage, there is nothing to suggest that it may be a new variant of COVID," he said.

"One thing to note is that we can be reassured that the surveillance processes are working, which is a very good thing."

Parents in Shanghai on Friday said they were not overly concerned about the wave of sickness, saying while it appeared to be more severe, they expected it to blow over soon.

"Colds happen all over the world," said Emily Wu outside a children's hospital. "I hope that people will not be biased because of the pandemic, but look at this from a scientific perspective."

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