China’s health ministry has dismissed the possibility of a novel virus causing a spike in respiratory illnesses among children in northern China, saying it is due to the flu and other common pathogens. The World Health Organization (WHO) had requested more information from China after media and ProMED reports of clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children’s hospitals in Beijing, Liaoning and other places in China. China said it had provided the requested data to WHO, showing an increase in respiratory infections due to influenza, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) since May, with some peaks earlier than usual. China also said it had not detected any unusual or novel pathogens or clinical presentations, and that the health system was able to cope with the patient load. WHO said it was monitoring the situation and advised people in China to follow measures to reduce the risk of respiratory illness, such as vaccination, distancing, testing, masking, ventilation, and hand-washing.
The surge in respiratory illnesses among children has raised concerns about the possibility of a new virus emerging in China, where the COVID-19 pandemic originated in late 2019. Some experts have speculated that the increase in cases could be due to a variant of SARS-CoV-2 that is more transmissible or virulent among children, or a different coronavirus that has jumped from animals to humans. However, China has denied these hypotheses, saying that the genetic sequencing of the samples from the patients has not shown any evidence of a novel virus. China has also claimed that the rise in respiratory infections is normal for this time of the year, when the weather changes and children return to school after the summer break. China has said that it has taken measures to prevent the spread of the infections, such as increasing the testing capacity, strengthening the surveillance and reporting system, and enhancing the treatment and isolation facilities.
WHO has acknowledged China’s cooperation and transparency in sharing the data and samples, and has praised China’s efforts to contain the outbreak. WHO has also said that it is not unusual to see seasonal fluctuations in respiratory infections, especially among children who are more susceptible to respiratory viruses. WHO has said that it is working closely with China and other countries to monitor the situation and provide technical support if needed. WHO has also urged the public to remain vigilant and follow the public health measures to protect themselves and others from respiratory illnesses. WHO has said that it will continue to update the global community on any new developments or findings.