Reports of a surge in respiratory diseases in China are dredging up stressful memories of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — but according to officials in that country, it's not caused by anything new.
As The Guardian and other outlets report, the Chinese health ministry has said that the winter surge is the result of a gnarly cocktail of known viruses such as influenza, adenovirus, rhinoviruses, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), plus bacteria that can cause respiratory tract infections.
All of those rose, the health ministry said, after the country lifted its COVID lockdowns and people began gathering again — much the same as the waves of seasonal respiratory illness we've had in the United States since our government all but abandoned lockdowns in 2021 following widespread vaccine access.
China's declaration seems to be backed up by the World Health Organization's own, in which the international body said that data it has viewed from the country's health ministry suggests "no detection of any unusual or novel pathogens." Notably, this statement came just a day after the WHO said it was opening an investigation into the surge.
All the same, a surge in illness is scary regardless of whether or not the pathogens are new, and China's health ministry is calling on local communities to promote vaccination and take other public health measures.
"Efforts should be made to increase the opening of relevant clinics and treatment areas, extend service hours and increase the supply of medicines," spokesperson Mi Feng said, per The Guardian.
The WHO and Chinese health officials both maintain that in spite of the surge, hospitals have not been overwhelmed. What's more, a WHO spokesperson told Stat News that the current surge is still lower than pre-pandemic levels of respiratory illness.
"We asked [the Chinese government] about comparisons prior to the pandemic. And the waves that they’re seeing now, the peak is not as high as what they saw in 2018-2019," Marina Van Kerkhove, the agency's acting director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention Van Kerkhove, told Stat over the holiday weekend.
"This is not an indication of a novel pathogen," she continued. "This is expected. This is what most countries dealt with a year or two ago."
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