Respiratory Disease Outbreak in China Prompts Panic, Overwhelms Hospitals

At approximately 2300 EST on November 21st, 2023, more than 3,000 patients flooded the pediatric ward in a hospital in Tianjin, China. These patients were experiencing pneumonia-like symptoms as local media reported a “influenza outbreak.”

By 0100 EST on November 22nd, 2023, the number of patients tripled, surpassing 9,000 as patients began to flood hospitals in Beijing. The Beijing, China Disease Control and Prevention Center issued a Influenza Epidemic Level III alert and issued warnings to the public to stay in their homes.

By 1800 EST on November 22nd, 2023, the World Health Organization issued this statement:

“WHO has made an official request to China for detailed information on an increase in respiratory illnesses and reported clusters of pneumonia in children.

At a press conference on 13 November 2023, Chinese authorities from the National Health Commission reported an increase in incidence of respiratory diseases in China. Chinese authorities attributed this increase to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the circulation of known pathogens such as influenza, mycoplasma pneumoniae (a common bacterial infection which typically affects younger children), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Authorities stressed the need for enhanced disease surveillance in healthcare facilities and community settings, as well as strengthening the capacity of the health system to manage patients.

On 21 November, media and ProMED reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China. It is unclear if these are associated with the overall increase in respiratory infections previously reported by Chinese authorities, or separate events.

On 22 November, WHO requested additional epidemiologic and clinical information, as well as laboratory results from these reported clusters among children, through the International Health Regulations mechanism. We have also requested further information about recent trends in the circulation of known pathogens including influenza, SARS-CoV-2, RSV and mycoplasma pneumoniae, and the current burden on health care systems. WHO is also in contact with clinicians and scientists through our existing technical partnerships and networks in China.

Since mid-October, northern China has reported an increase in influenza-like illness compared to the same period in the previous three years. China has systems in place to capture information on trends in influenza, influenza-like illnesses, RSV and SARS-CoV-2, and reports to platforms such as the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System.”

However, by 0100 EST on November 23rd, 2023 Chinese doctors began circulating advice to not self-test for Mycoplasma pneumoniae (MP) due to low accuracy of tests. By 0130 EST, the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that MP was no longer considered the primary concern for the nationwide incident. By 0200 EST, the Shandong, China Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued commands for citizens to wear masks as the Second Affiliated Hospital of Tianjin University Traditional Chinese Medicine in Hubei requested critical support due to extreme overcrowding.

As of this publication, case numbers have risen more than five times across Northern China. Chinese medical authorities have advised parents to seek medical help for their children if they experience respiratory issues for more than three days.

This is developing.

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Ethan Alun
Ethan Alun
A United States Naval Academy and American Military University Alumni, Ethan covers flash military, intelligence, and geo-political updates.
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