Reports of clusters of unexplained pneumonia among children in multiple cities in China have sparked concerns this week. However, Chinese authorities and experts suggest that the rise in illness is likely linked to known threats circulating after the country lifted public health restrictions, rather than a new pathogen.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a teleconference was held with Chinese health authorities on Thursday. The Chinese health authorities provided data showing an increase in outpatient visits and hospital admissions of children due to well-known illnesses in recent months. The data indicated a rise in illness since October linked to the circulation of influenza, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Chinese health authorities have stated that there have been no changes in symptoms and no detection of any unusual or novel pathogens.
The WHO noted that some of the increases in illness are earlier in the season than historically experienced, but this is not unexpected given the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, similar to experiences in other countries.
China recently launched enhanced outpatient and inpatient surveillance covering a broad spectrum of viruses and bacteria, including M. pneumoniae, for the first time. This may have contributed to the observed increase in detection and reporting of respiratory illness in children.
Experts suggest that younger populations may lack immunity from exposure to viruses and bacteria that commonly circulate. This is because strict restrictions were in place for several years, and various respiratory viruses have started circulating again since the lifting of restrictions.
It is important to note that surges in pediatric hospital beds are not unusual and have been experienced in other countries like the United States and Canada. Ongoing information-sharing and surveillance are crucial to ensure that nothing else has happened and to address concerns about transparency.