China’s pneumonia outbreak is of global concern, India must be prepared: Experts

Health experts emphasise the potential spillover to India and urge preparedness by reactivating Covid pandemic preparations.

In recent days, media in cities in northern China have posted videos of hospitals crowded with parents and children awaiting checks. (photo: DW)
In recent days, media in cities in northern China have posted videos of hospitals crowded with parents and children awaiting checks. (photo: DW)


Hot on the heels of a deadly Covid-19 pandemic, the recent pneumonia outbreak reported in China is a concern for the rest of the world as our interconnected world still poses risks, said experts on Thursday, while calling on the need for preparing for the worst.

A recent post on ProMED Mail, the online reporting system of the International Society for Infectious Diseases, reported that China was experiencing a major pneumonia outbreak with no known cause in children.

It said that the outbreak, causing symptoms such as high fever, and some developing pulmonary nodules is overwhelming paediatric hospitals in the country.

Upon request, Chinese officials informed the World Health Organisation (WHO) that no new pathogens were detected in the outbreak, and instead the illnesses were caused by known seasonal viruses such as the flu and RSV, along with the bacteria Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

Netherlands and Denmark have also reported a similar uptick in pneumonia cases among children.

While there is currently no report of a spread, it may be too early to say whether it can spread, said health experts calling for increasing surveillance.

“While the risk of the new China flu threatening India is currently low, the potential for spillover remains. Implementing proactive preventive measures and strengthening public health infrastructure are crucial to safeguard India's health security,” Dr Tushar Tayal, Consultant, Internal Medicine, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram, told IANS.

"In the wake of the pneumonia outbreak in China, vigilance becomes our greatest shield. Although, there is no imminent threat to India, given our robust preparedness. Drawing from our past encounters with novel viruses, our readiness is evident. The lessons learned have fortified our capabilities to effectively address potential challenges posed by emerging infectious agents. However, our interconnected world still poses risks, and in such a case awareness and precautions are potent tools,” added Dr Nidhin Mohan, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Narayana Health City, Bengaluru.

A new paper in the Lancet journal shows a significant resurgence of Mycoplasma pneumonia cases post Covid in several countries including Singapore and Sweden since April.

Last week, the Union Health Ministry noted that it is “closely monitoring the reported outbreak of H9N2 cases and clusters of respiratory illness in children” in northern China.

“There is low risk to India from both the avian influenza case reported from China as well as the clusters of respiratory illness,” said a statement from the Ministry.

It added that the country is prepared for any kind of exigency that may emerge from the current influenza situation in China.

About six states -- Rajasthan, Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Tamil Nadu -- have also asked their hospitals and healthcare staff to ensure preparedness to tackle patients complaining of respiratory issues.

Dr Krishan Chugh, Director and head of the department of paediatrics at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, said the respiratory infection in Chinese children is “a concern for the rest of the world” as it is obviously highly infectious (even though exact characteristics of the virus are not known/revealed)”.

Calling upon India to be prepared, he advised it to reactivate all recent Covid pandemic preparations. “But, unlike Covid, this time the victims of the new virus are children and not adults. Here we have limitations. Trained nurses for paediatric ICUs are very few in our country. Number of paediatric beds, suitable equipment including ventilators and trained paediatric intensivists are available only in big cities and metros. We should plan for these right now,” Dr Chugh told IANS.

Dr Aoyon Sengupta, from SRCC Children's Hospital, Mumbai said that India is well-prepared with the multiple waves of Covid and the experience of handling sick children with Covid infection.

“In India, we have seen an increase in cases of viral pneumonia in children after Covid-19 subsided. There have been surges of pneumonia due to adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza virus to name a few, over the past year, some of them are severe and need prolonged ICU care.

“India is well-prepared for paediatric outbreaks, yet continuous strengthening is advised,” Dr Sengupta, Sr Consultant, Paediatric Critical Care & Emergency Medicine at SRCC, told IANS.

The health experts called on caregivers to stay vigilant and not ignore symptoms like cough, cold, and fever. They also advised parents to proactively take preventive measures, ensuring regular health check-ups and promoting a hygienic environment to safeguard children from potential respiratory threats. Early recognition and prompt medical attention is needed.

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