Health experts at the World Health Organization have warned that people in China should wear masks, socially distance and stay home if they feel ill amid an outbreak of a mysterious respiratory illness
They say China must be more transparent with the new outbreak than they were with Covid, as cases of ‘undiagnosed pneumonia’ are detected at hospitals in Beijing and in Liaoning.
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The Mail Online reports: Health facilities are ‘overwhelmed with sick children’ and classes are on the verge of being suspended according to local news reports.
The situation prompted an alert from ProMed — a disease surveillance system which similarly sounded the alarm of a mystery infection in Wuhan in the closing days of 2019, which would later emerge as the global Covid pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged residents to don face coverings, stay away from ill people and remain at home if unwell. It has also called for the famously opaque nation to share ‘detailed information’ on the outbreak.
Chinese officials first reported an increase in respiratory diseases at a press conference on November 13, which they attributed to lifting lockdown restrictions.
Similar patterns had been seen worldwide as measures brought in to reduce the spread of Covid — such as face masks, social distancing and lockdowns — interrupted the spread of typical seasonal viruses, such as flu and RSV.
As a result, immunity against these bugs dropped across populations meaning people were more vulnerable to bugs as measures were lifted.
Officials blamed mycoplasma pneumoniae — a bacteria that causes lung infections — as well as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and Covid for the spike in illness.
Then ProMed this week reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children.
An editor’s note on the alert reads: ‘This report suggests a widespread outbreak of an undiagnosed respiratory illness… It is not at all clear when this outbreak started, as it would be unusual for so many children to be affected so quickly.
‘The report does not say that any adults were affected, suggesting some exposure at the schools.
‘ProMed awaits more definitive information about the etiology and scope of this concerning illness in China.’
It is unclear if these cases are linked to the overall increase in respiratory infections already reported by Chinese officials, or separate and potentially caused by a new virus.
The WHO said it has now called on China to share data on these patients, recent trends in the circulation of viruses and pressures on hospitals.
The UN health agency said it is also in contact with medics and scientists in a bid to understand the situation.
In the meantime, it urged people in China to ‘follow measures to reduce the risk of respiratory illness’.
These include ‘recommended vaccination; keeping distance from people who are ill; staying home when ill; getting tested and medical care as needed; wearing masks as appropriate; ensuring good ventilation; and regular hand-washing’, the WHO said.