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World Health Organization Seeks Information on Surge of Respiratory Illnesses in Chinese Children

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has reached out to Chinese officials for detailed information regarding a significant increase in respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia, among children. This comes as pediatric medical centers across the country are becoming overwhelmed with patients.

Undiagnosed Pneumonia in Children

The WHO's request for information was prompted by reports, including one from ProMED, which tracks global outbreaks of infectious diseases. ProMED recently issued a warning about an "undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China." In response, the WHO has asked Chinese officials for additional epidemiological and clinical information, as well as test results.

Resurgence of Respiratory Pathogens

China is experiencing a resurgence of various respiratory pathogens, particularly as the country enters its first winter after relaxing strict Covid-19 restrictions. The impact of these pathogens appears to be particularly severe among children.

The WHO stated, "It is unclear if these are associated with the overall increase in respiratory infections previously reported by Chinese authorities, or separate events."

Infections and Pneumonia in Children

Local media has reported a steady rise in infections among kindergarten and primary school children caused by a pathogen called mycoplasma. While this germ typically leads to mild colds in older children and adults with strong immune systems, younger children are more susceptible to developing pneumonia, which can last for weeks.

Data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention also shows a steady increase in influenza positivity rates in October, even as Covid rates decline following a small peak during the summer.

Concerns at China's Top Medical Center

Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, China's leading medical center for respiratory diseases, has seen a rise in mycoplasma infections among children, with a positivity rate of 40% compared to just 6% among adults. Tong Zhaohui, the hospital's vice dean, warned that mycoplasma tends to cause major outbreaks every three to seven years.

As concerns grow, more people are wearing masks on Beijing's subway trains, and teachers in the city are urging parents not to send their children to school if they display any symptoms.

Antibiotic Resistance

Adding to the worry is the fact that the most common antibiotic used to treat mycoplasma infections, azithromycin, faces higher drug resistance in China compared to other parts of the world. Up to 60-70% of adult cases and up to 80% of cases in children do not respond to azithromycin and other antibiotics in the same class, according to Yin Yudong, an infectious disease doctor at Chaoyang Hospital.

Influx of Patients at Pediatric Hospitals

Anxious parents are flocking to top children's hospitals in Chinese mega-cities as they seek medical attention for their sick kids. Local media reports have shown prestigious pediatric medical centers in Beijing crowded with parents and patients, leading to longer wait times in emergency rooms, with some families waiting over seven hours to see a doctor.

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