NEW DELHI: Amid a mysterious outbreak of pneumonia cases causing worry in parts of China, the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged the citizens to wear masks, adhere to social distancing and stay home in case they feel unwell. The measures are reminiscent of the three-year-long Covid pandemic, which had brought the entire world to a screeching halt.
The WHO suggestion comes after cases of “undiagnosed pneumonia” were detected at hospitals in Beijing and Liaoning, a province nearly 500 miles northeast of China’s capital.
The sudden outbreak has reportedly overwhelmed health facilities with “sick children”, prompting the suspension of classes.
According to local reports, infected children are experiencing “lung inflammation and a high fever”, but not a cough or other symptoms that signal flu, RSV or another respiratory illness.
The outbreak has triggered a warning from ProMed, a disease surveillance system that previously raised concerns about a mysterious infection in Wuhan in late 2019, which later turned out to be the Covid pandemic.
According to reports, the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised residents to wear face coverings, avoid contact with sick individuals, and stay at home if they are feeling unwell.
Moreover, the international public health wing of the UN has asked Chinese authorities to disclose “detailed information” regarding the mysterious outbreak.
Previously on November 13, Chinese officials attributed the sharp increase in respiratory diseases to the easing of lockdown curbs and pinned blame on mycoplasma pneumonia, a bacteria that causes lung infection.
The officials also claimed that the spike was due to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and Covid.
However, later this week ProMed reported “clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children”.
According to Daily Mail, ProMed awaits “more definitive information about the etiology and scope of this concerning illness in China”.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) has formally requested China to provide information about infected patients, it remains uncertain whether these cases are connected to the broader surge in respiratory infections already acknowledged by Chinese authorities or if they represent distinct instances potentially triggered by a new virus.
The UN health agency has also initiated communication with healthcare professionals and scientists in an effort to gain a comprehensive understanding of the situation.
In the meantime, WHO has also recommended that Chinese nationals get themselves tested and seek medical care as needed. It has advised to ensure good ventilation and regular hand-washing.
Suspicion over transparency
China has faced past criticism for downplaying the severity of the initial SARS epidemic in 2003 and the late 2019 Covid pandemic — both involving novel viruses leading to pneumonia.
The WHO’s regional branch in China has already attempted to dodge the WHO’s information request, characterising it as a “routine” procedure.
Meanwhile, as data still emerges, infectious disease experts maintain that China must curb the outbreak in a “transparent” manner.
Experts await details
Simon Clarke, a cellular microbiologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline that “experts were waiting on further analysis of the outbreak”.
“There are lots of germs which can cause a patient’s lungs to become inflamed and as the northern hemisphere moves towards winter, they are likely to become more prevalent,” he said.
“We don’t yet have confirmation of what is causing this outbreak in China, it may be something new or it may be a new version of something we’ve encountered before,” Clarke added.
“It’s important that medical science in China gets a grip on what is causing this outbreak and whether there is any person-to-person spread. It was a failure to contain Covid-19 and an overall lack of transparency that caused so much damage four years ago,” he said.
Professor Jones, a virologist at Reading, told Daily Mail that concerns about a new pandemic were naturally elevated given people’s experiences with Covid. However, at present, such concerns are not deemed justified.
“Don’t get carried away with symptoms, these vary a lot with particular strains, so can’t be used to identify the likely culprit. Modern sequencing techniques are very fast and will identify the agent soon. Until then traditional sanitation and distancing practices should prevail,” he said.