China: It's the Flu, Not a Novel Virus

WHO investigates after nation sees a surge in respiratory cases
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 26, 2023 8:00 AM CST
China: It's the Flu, Not a Scary New Virus
A person wearing a mask passes by a children's hospital in Beijing, Friday, Nov. 24, 2023.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A surge in respiratory illnesses across China that has drawn the attention of the World Health Organization is caused by the flu and other known pathogens and not by a novel virus, the country's health ministry said Sunday. Recent clusters of respiratory infections are caused by an overlap of common viruses such as the influenza virus, rhinoviruses, the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, the adenovirus, as well as bacteria such as mycoplasma pneumoniae, a common culprit for respiratory tract infections, a National Health Commission spokesperson said, per the AP. According to internal accounts in China, the outbreaks have swamped hospitals in northern China, including in Beijing, and authorities have asked the public to take children with less severe symptoms to clinics instead.

The ministry called on local authorities to open more fever clinics and promote vaccinations among children and the elderly as the country grapples with a wave of respiratory illnesses in its first full winter since the removal of COVID-19 restrictions. The spokesperson advised people to wear masks and called on local authorities to focus on preventing the spread of illnesses in crowded places such as schools and nursing homes. The WHO earlier this week formally requested that China provide information about a potentially worrying spike in respiratory illnesses and clusters of pneumonia in children, as mentioned by several media reports and a global infectious disease monitoring service.

The emergence of new flu strains or other viruses capable of triggering pandemics typically starts with undiagnosed clusters of respiratory illness. Both SARS and COVID-19 were first reported as unusual types of pneumonia. Chinese authorities earlier this month blamed the increase in respiratory diseases on the lifting of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Other countries also saw a jump in respiratory diseases when pandemic restrictions ended. The WHO said Chinese health officials on Thursday provided the data it requested during a teleconference. Those showed an increase in hospital admissions of children due to diseases including bacterial infection, RSV, influenza, and common cold viruses.

(More China stories.)

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