• Health China responds to WHO that it has not detected "unusual or new pathogens" after the increase in respiratory illnesses

Every day at Beijing Children's Hospital, around the infusion center, there is a crowd of parents with their children in their arms waiting for their turn. When Fang Hui arrived at the hospital with her eight-month-old daughter, who had been suffering from a high fever for a couple of days, she had to wait more than 40 minutes just to get the ticket from the machine.

With his number already in hand, he looked with astonishment at the monitor that indicated that he still had more than 400 people ahead of him to go for consultation. He waited for 16 hours, even spending the night downtown. In the corridors and waiting rooms, many parents threw themselves on the floor to sleep with their children. For any procedure, whether it was taking the ticket for the infusion, waiting for the consultation or paying for the medications, the picture of crowds was the same.

The scene was reminiscent of when hospitals collapsed during the first (and not too distant) big wave of Covid, which didn't reach China until the end of December 2022 and extended until the beginning of February 2023. The Asian powerhouse, after three years tied to its policy of confinements, city lockdowns and daily PCR tests, suddenly lifted all restrictions, causing unprecedented pressure on the health system.

Find out more

Bless you.

WHO asks Beijing for information on rising respiratory illnesses in children

  • Written by: LUCAS DE LA CAL Shanghai

WHO asks Beijing for information on rising respiratory illnesses in children

Bless you.

Why the Rise in 'Walking' Pneumonias in Chinese Children Causes Alarm and Concern

  • Written by: P. PÉREZ Madrid

Why the Rise in 'Walking' Pneumonias in Chinese Children Causes Alarm and Concern

Almost a year later, many hospitals are once again overwhelmed by what the authorities have described as a "mixture of pathogens", all of them old acquaintances who had been kept out of circulation in recent years due to the overprotection of the population - masks, physical distancing and long quarantines at home - during the pandemic.

Record number of children at Tianjin Children's Hospital

In Tianjin, a 30-minute train ride from Beijing, the children's hospital said Monday it is treating a record more than 13,000 pediatric patients daily. If we go south, to the city of Dongguan, several primary schools have suspended classes, on the recommendation of the authorities, because in many classrooms more than a third of the students began to have strong flu symptoms. On social media, many parents complain that they have had to spend a fortune in private hospitals because in public centers everything is in chaos.

"The lockdowns during the pandemic prevented the circulation of seasonal viruses and this has meant that many people have not had the opportunity to develop immunity against these microorganisms, starting with very young children who are getting their first flu three years late," explains Dr. Li Zhu, from the paediatrics department of Shanghai's Taiyanghua Hospital. who assures that in November they were able to receive 200% more visits than in the same period of the previous year.

The infusion room at this center, like the one in Beijing, is overcrowded and there are a few children scattered in the corridors who are receiving medication through an IV. "What we get the most are cases of influenza, which is more serious in children under five years of age," says the doctor.

At Huasang General Hospital in central Shanghai, the emergency room is filling up these days with elderly people with strong flu and Covid. Some specialists are already talking about the beginning of a strong second wave of SARS-CoV-2 infections that is increasing admissions among the older population. The center's children's area is also receiving a large number of parents with children suffering from mycoplasma pneumonia, a common bacterial infection that usually affects the little ones.

Antibiotic-resistant bacterial pneumonias

"Although this pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics – macrolides – an over-reliance on these drugs has led the pathogen to develop resistance," explains Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, where they are also reporting an increase in these pneumonias in children. "In the studies that are being done in Beijing, what we are seeing is that the rates of resistance of mycoplasma pneumonias to macrolides are between 70% and 90%. This resistance could be contributing to this year's high levels of hospitalization."

After the uproar generated in the international health community by the increase in respiratory diseases in China and large reported clusters of pneumonia in children, with the WHO demanding detailed information from Beijing on the outbreaks, the Chinese Ministry of Health organized a press conference on Sunday to make it clear that no new virus has appeared.

A cocktail of factors behind the explosion of cases

Mi Feng, the ministry's spokesman, said the recent clusters of respiratory infections are caused by an overlap of common viruses such as influenza, rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and adenovirus, as well as bacteria such as mycoplasma, which is causing the wave of "walking" pneumonia in children.

"Efforts should be made to implement effective epidemic prevention and control measures in key locations with dense populations, such as schools, childcare institutions, and nursing homes," Mi said. "This includes minimizing staff movement and visits."

Dr. Wang Huaqing, head of the immunization program at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that mycoplasma infections were mainly observed among the five-to-14 age group, while the rest were mainly sickened by different types and combinations of viruses.

On November 13, the Chinese authorities already explained at a press conference that the striking increase in infections among minors was due to mycoplasma pneumonia, which mainly affects children and the most common symptoms are headache, sore throat, cough and fever. Even in October, several state media had already reported the increase in these cases.

But the international spotlight did not fall on China until the WHO made its request public after a report by ProMed, the outbreak surveillance network that first alerted the world to Covid, which cited an "undiagnosed pneumonia" concentrated in the north of the Asian giant. Many remembered that WHO statement on January 5, 2020 in which it mentioned a "pneumonia of unknown cause" in Wuhan.

Despite the media uproar, the WHO made it clear from the outset that these bizarre cases cited by ProMed – whose first source was an article in a Thai newspaper that spoke of mysterious cases of pneumonia – could be associated with the same pneumonia outbreak reported by Chinese authorities. Last Friday, Beijing responded to the WHO's request for information, noting that it had not detected any new pathogens and that the increase in respiratory illnesses is partly due to the fact that it is the first winter since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.

"What's happening in China is what most countries faced a year or two ago. No new and unusual pathogens have been found," Maria Van Kerkhove, acting director of WHO's department of epidemic preparedness and prevention, said this week. The expert reiterated that the increase in respiratory diseases that the Asian country is currently suffering from appears to be driven by the increasing number of children contracting pathogens after having avoided the bacteria for the past few years.

  • Infectious diseases
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Pediatrics
  • Influenza
  • China