EXPLAINED: What is New Mysterious Disease in China?

COVID-19 International

Unexplained Pneumonia Surge in China Sparks Global Concern; WHO says no need to panic

With the world still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, any unusual outbreak raises concerns about its potential for rapid spread and impact.

In such a concerning turn of events, China is grappling with a surge in cases of an unidentified respiratory illness that is leading to cases of pneumonia among children.

Health authorities around the world are on high alert as China launched an urgent investigation into the outbreak of respiratory illnesses. World Health Organization (WHO) asked China to share more information about the situation. 

Although the precise nature of the illness remains uncertain, initial indications point towards a probable resurgence of common respiratory pathogens.

Indian Union Health Ministry said it is closely observing the recent increase in respiratory illnesses among children in northern China. No unusual pathogens or unexpected clinical presentations have not been detected in India. The ministry expressed that the potential risks to India appear to be minimal.

Here’s what we know so far.

What happened in China?

On November 13, China’s National Health Commission reported an increase in respiratory diseases during a press conference

The Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED) then reported that undiagnosed pneumonia predominantly affects children in northern China. ProMED is a surveillance system that conducts global reporting of infectious disease outbreaks.

On 23 November, WHO held a teleconference with Chinese health authorities from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Beijing Children’s Hospital.

Reasons behind outbreak

According to Chinese authorities, the rise in cases is linked to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and the onset of colder weather. 

The increase is also associated with the presence of familiar pathogens like influenza, Mycoplasma pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Since May, there has been an increase in cases of Mycoplasma pneumonia, and starting from October, there has been a rise in illnesses caused by viruses like RSV, adenovirus, and influenza, WHO said in a statement.  Mycoplasma pneumonia and RSV are known to impact children more than adults.

What is the Risk?

Chinese authorities informed WHO that they have not found any new or strange pathogens causing illnesses, and they haven’t noticed any unusual ways people are getting sick. More people are getting respiratory (breathing) problems due to multiple known pathogens. 

According to WHO, Mycoplasma pneumonia is a common respiratory pathogen and a common cause of pediatric pneumonia, and it is readily treated with antibiotics. 

Al Jazeera reported that a major hospital in the city is dealing with around 1,200 patients entering their emergency room daily. The number of people getting sick with respiratory problems is expected to increase during winter.

What are the symptoms?

According to ProMED, the main symptom in children seems to be a fever with no coughing. But many kids are reportedly developing something called pulmonary nodules, which are small growths in the lungs. 

Pulmonary nodules are typically a sign of bacterial rather than viral infection and could result from people developing a bacterial infection after having the flu virus. While bacterial infections can be as harmful as viral ones, they are considered less threatening in terms of causing a pandemic. 

WHO’s Advice

To lower the risk of respiratory illnesses, WHO suggests –

  • Getting recommended vaccines for influenza, COVID-19, and other relevant respiratory pathogens, 
  • Keeping a safe distance from sick individuals
  • Staying home if feeling unwell
  • Seeking testing and medical care when necessary
  • Using masks as appropriate 
  • Maintaining regular handwashing

For travelers going to China, the WHO doesn’t specify particular measures. 

WHO also cautions against implementing travel or trade restrictions based on the current information available regarding this situation.


Title:EXPLAINED: What is New Mysterious Disease in China?

Written By: Fact Crescendo Team 

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