India on alert as China faces respiratory illness outbreak and H9N2 avian flu case

H9N2 avian flu

New Delhi: The Union Health Ministry on Friday said it is closely monitoring the situation in China, where an outbreak of respiratory illness among children and a human case of H9N2 avian flu have been reported. The ministry said that India is prepared for any public health challenge and that there is a low risk to India from both events.

According to media reports, Chinese hospitals have been “overwhelmed with sick children” as an outbreak of pneumonia escalates in cities across the country, including Beijing. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also sought detailed reports from China on the increase in respiratory illnesses and the reported clusters of pneumonia in children.

The ministry said that based on the currently available information, the usual causes of respiratory illness in children have been implicated and there has been no identification of an unusual pathogen or any unexpected clinical manifestations. The ministry also said that it will adopt a One Health approach towards addressing such public health issues, which involves coordination among human, animal, and environmental sectors.

The ministry also said that a meeting was recently held under the Chairmanship of DGHS to discuss the preparedness measures against human cases of avian influenza in the country, in the backdrop of a human case of H9N2 avian flu in October 2023 in China that was reported to WHO. The H9N2 virus is a subtype of avian influenza that can infect humans and cause mild respiratory symptoms.

The ministry said that the overall risk assessment by WHO indicates a low probability of human-to-human transmission and a low case fatality rate among human cases of H9N2 reported to WHO so far. The ministry also said that the need for strengthening surveillance among human, animal, and wildlife sectors and improving coordination was recognized.

The H9N2 outbreak in China is concerning because the initial instances of what later became known as COVID-19 were initially described as unexplained pneumonia in late 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic, which originated in China, has infected over 300 million people and killed over 6 million people worldwide.

H9N2 avian flu

The WHO has made an official request to China for detailed information on the increase in respiratory illnesses and the reported clusters of pneumonia in children, the UN health agency said in a statement on Wednesday. The WHO said that it is working closely with the Chinese authorities to understand the situation and provide support as needed.