China is facing a mysterious pneumonia outbreak, particularly among children, which has overwhelmed hospitals and prompted concerns and an official request for information from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Chinese authorities attributed the rise in respiratory illnesses to the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions and the circulation of known pathogens such as influenza, mycoplasma pneumoniae, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2.

Media reports and ProMED have highlighted clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China, prompting the WHO to seek additional epidemiologic and clinical information.

According to the latest update, Chinese health authorities have not identified any unusual pathogens and have provided the requested data on respiratory illnesses.

The WHO emphasises the need for enhanced disease surveillance and recommends measures to reduce the risk of respiratory illness, including vaccination, maintaining distance from sick individuals, staying home when ill, testing, wearing masks, ensuring good ventilation, and regular handwashing.

Scientists urge caution, emphasising the importance of diagnostic information and highlighting that the situation may be a seasonal surge or a resurgence of common respiratory infections, rather than a novel emerging pathogen.

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According to a report by Reuters, WHO public health expert and advisor Brian McCloskey said: “What we are seeing is WHO’s International Health Regulations system in action.

“I am not going to push the pandemic panic button on the basis of what we know so far, but I will be very keen to see the response to WHO from China and see the WHO’s assessment following that.”