The World Health Organization (WHO) has formally urged Chinese authorities to release comprehensive data, following a surge in respiratory illnesses and clusters of pneumonia cases among children in China.
Chinese health officials from the National Health Commission on November 13 disclosed a noticeable rise in respiratory diseases, attributed to the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions and the circulation of known pathogens such as influenza, mycoplasma pneumoniae (a common bacterial infection that affects younger children), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
There are also reports of clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia specifically affecting children in northern China. However, it remains uncertain if these clusters are linked to the earlier reported upsurge in respiratory infections or represent distinct occurrences, the WHO said in a statement.
“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,” the international body said.
“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,” it added.
Pneumonia, responsible for 14% of deaths among children under 5 in 2019, already claimed the lives of 740,180 kids globally. It can result from various sources like viruses, bacteria, or fungi, according to WHO data.
What causes pneumonia?
Pneumonia arises from various infectious sources, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The World Health Organization said the primary causative agents include:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
- predominantly responsible for bacterial pneumonia in children.Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), the secondary leading cause of bacterial pneumonia.Respiratory syncytial virus, the prevalent viral agent causing pneumonia.Pneumocystis jiroveci, notably prevalent in infants with HIV, contributing to approximately a quarter of pneumonia-related deaths among HIV-infected infants.
Bacterial-induced pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, yet only a third of children diagnosed with pneumonia receive the necessary antibiotic treatment, the WHO said.
How is pneumonia transmitted?
Airborne droplets from coughs or sneezes are another common route for transmission. Viruses and bacteria typically present in a child's nasal passages or throat can infiltrate the lungs upon inhalation. Moreover, pneumonia can disseminate through the bloodstream, particularly during and immediately after birth.
Symptoms of pneumonia
Symptoms associated with viral and bacterial pneumonia share similarities, although viral pneumonia may present with a broader range of symptoms compared to bacterial pneumonia.
In children below 5 years old exhibiting coughing, breathing difficulties, with or without fever, pneumonia diagnosis is confirmed by: rapid breathing or lower chest while indrawing—where the chest moves in or retracts during inhalation, contrary to the usual expansion during breathing.
Wheezing tends to be more prevalent in viral infections.In severe cases, critically ill infants might struggle to feed or drink and could experience unconsciousness, hypothermia, and convulsions.
Is your child at risk?
Certain risk factors increase a child’s susceptibility to pneumonia. While healthy children can usually combat the infection with their immune defenses, those with compromised immune systems face increased risks. Weakened immunity often results from malnutrition or inadequate nutrition, particularly in infants not exclusively breastfed.
Pre-existing conditions like symptomatic HIV infections and measles further elevate the likelihood of pneumonia in children.
Environmental elements also contribute to a child's vulnerability to pneumonia. Factors are:
- indoor air pollution arising from biomass fuel usage for cooking and heating (like wood or dung)
- residing in overcrowded homes
- exposure to parental smoking heightens the risk.
To avoid potential outbreak, WHO advises the public to follow these precautions:
- maintaining distance from ill individuals
- staying home when unwell
- seeking medical care and testing if necessary, appropriate mask usage
- ensuring adequate ventilation
- regular hand hygiene