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Vigilance called for as peak flu season starts

By WANG XIAOYU | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-14 09:34
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Health commission stresses improved monitoring as respiratory illnesses spread

China is seeing the circulation of multiple infectious respiratory illnesses this winter, with surging cases of mycoplasma pneumonia, rising cases of influenza flu, but a downward trend in COVID-19 cases in recent days, health authorities and experts said on Monday.

They added that people can recover from most respiratory infections without special treatment, but the elderly, children aged 5 and under and immunocompromised groups should visit hospitals promptly and take therapies as guided.

Mi Feng, spokesman of the National Health Commission, said during a news conference that as winter approaches, China has entered the peak season for respiratory illnesses, and different viruses or pathogens are circulating simultaneously.

"Efforts should be made to monitor the spread of mycoplasma pneumonia, COVID-19, influenza flu, as well as dengue fever and norovirus infections, to step up surveillance and early warnings so as to understand the spread of these viruses and their mutations," he said.

Mycoplasma pneumoniae — a pathogen that commonly causes sore throat, fatigue, fever and a lingering cough that can last for months in children aged 5 and above — has drawn heightened attention this winter as hospitals nationwide have seen young patients swarming there to seek treatment.

Tong Zhaohui, vice-president of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital affiliated to Capital Medical University and head of the Beijing respiratory disease research institute, said that regional epidemics of mycoplasma pneumoniae infections emerge every three to seven years.

The pathogen tends to spread quickly among kindergartens, schools and family members, he added.

"This year, the disease also inflicts children aged under three, but their condition is not more severe compared to previous years," Tong said.

At his hospital, Tong said, the positivity rate for the pathogen stands around 5.6 percent for adults and 40.3 percent among children.

He added that the increasing activities of the pathogen and other viruses are not unexpected.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, the spread of acute respiratory diseases appeared to be mild due to strict personal protection measures," he said.

"With the ease of virus containment measures, the circulation of these diseases has returned to pre-pandemic status, which is normal."

Wang Dayan, director of the China National Influenza Center administered by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that flu activities across the nation have been rising, with H3N2 the dominant strain.

In past years, the flu season for winter and spring usually runs from about mid-October to early March and peaks in January, she said.

Wang stressed that an effective way to prevent flu infections and reduce related serious cases and deaths is expanding vaccinations. Arrangements have been rolled out to facilitate flu immunization among medical workers, the elderly, people with chronic diseases, staff members at nursery and elderly care centers, schools, as well as children aged from six months to five and family members of infants.

She added that flu vaccine supplies this year have risen compared with last year and are sufficient to meet demand.

Regarding COVID-19, Wang said that the number of domestic cases has been on a downward trend since late August and the positivity rate of the disease at fever clinics and hospitals is declining consistently.

China reported 209 severe COVID-19 cases and 24 related deaths in October, according to the China CDC.

However, Zhong Nanshan, a prominent respiratory illness expert, said during a conference on Friday that modeling shows that small spikes of COVID-19 infections will likely appear this month through to January.

Zhong suggested the public, especially vulnerable groups, obtain updated vaccines as soon as possible.

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