China has seen a surge in new respiratory diseases that appear to be affecting mostly children.
The outbreak is linked to the spread of common diseases such as influenza, mycoplasma pneumonia, a common bacterial infection that typically affects younger children, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19 virus.
China’s National Health Commission particularly attributed the increase to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO said it has been monitoring data from Chinese surveillance systems that show an increase in respiratory illness in children in northern China since mid-October 2023.
On Thursday, it revealed that there is limited detailed information available to fully characterize the overall risk of these reported cases of respiratory illness in children.
However, due to the arrival of the winter season, an increasing trend in respiratory illnesses is expected as the spread of respiratory viruses may increase the burden on healthcare facilities.
No changes in the disease presentation were reported and there has been no detection of any unusual or novel pathogens or unusual clinical presentations, including in Beijing and Liaoning.
Also, the rise in respiratory illness has not resulted in patient loads exceeding hospital capacities, the Chinese authorities said.
It noted that since mid-October, enhanced outpatient and inpatient surveillance has been implemented for respiratory illnesses covering a broad spectrum of viruses and bacteria, including, for the first time, Mycoplasma pneumoniae.
This complements existing respiratory surveillance mechanisms and may have contributed to the observed increase in detection and reporting of respiratory illness in children.
According to surveillance data reported to WHO,’s FluNet and published by the National Influenza Centre in China, ILI was above usual levels for this time of year and increasing in the northern provinces.
WHO has urged that people in China follow measures to reduce the risk of respiratory illness, which include recommended vaccines against influenza, COVID-19 and other respiratory pathogens as appropriate; 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 practicing regular handwashing.
WHO does not recommend any specific measures for travellers to China but has urged experiencing symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness to avoid travel.
In case of symptoms during or after travel, travellers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share travel history with their health care provider.
WHO also advised against the application of any travel or trade restrictions based on the current information available on this event.