The Current Outbreak of Respiratory syncytial virus in China Unlikely to Lead to a Repeat Pandemic

Health systems across the nation of China have been placed on red alert as a wave of respiratory infections sweeps through the country. Starting from the northern regions of China and continuing down to the rest of the country, these infections seem to disproportionately target children. On the 23rd of November, 2023, the WHO held a meeting with authorities from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention to get to the root of the crisis and confirm if it was something serious or just an overblown reaction. The data surveyed showed that there was a substantial increase in both outpatient consultations and hospital admissions for respiratory reasons, especially among children.

Common Cold

Another COVID-19?

The world is still reeling from the scars of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it makes sense that people are worried about this rise in respiratory infections across China. However, this is not another COVID, or a superbug waiting to spread its tentacles across the world. A significant percentage of these respiratory infections are caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (which causes mild, cold-like symptoms) and Mycoplasma pneumoniaeMycoplasma pneumonia causes a type of pneumonia known as “walking pneumonia”, so named because it is mild enough that sufferers can essentially walk it off. However, children do not have the fully developed immunity of adults leading to a spike in hospitalizations.

Why this is happening now

For over three years, humanity hunkered down in the face of onslaughts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments across the world enacted policies and passed legislation to keep their people as safe as possible. However, recently, a lot of these policies and guidelines have gently been eased away. Lockdowns have slowly become a thing of the past, almost no one socially distances anymore. Masking is a dying tradition and every day fewer people care about protecting their neighbors from disease transmission. In such a period, common and opportunistic microbes have a rare window of opportunity to cause damage. Mix in the fact that the colder months are known to have an increased incidence of respiratory infections. And you have a veritable recipe for disaster.

The Chinese government fights back.

To tackle this emerging challenge, China has worked to increase the capacity of its health facilities. On the laboratory end, Chinese scientists have stratified the causative organisms and have concluded that there are no new microbes running amok and there are also no new presentations for existing microbes. According to the Chinese government, everything is under control and platforms have been set up across the country to capture trends for influenza-like illnesses among other respiratory infections.

Can we trust China?

Chen Qiushi was a citizen journalist who broke the news on the emergence of COVID-19 and the Chinese government’s shoddy response. His posts were censored on Chinese social media, and in 2020 he was placed in forced quarantine. Many such cases demonstrate the Chinese government’s willingness to suppress whistleblowers if their revelations will taint the image of the Communist Party. Due to this, there is a non-zero chance that the news we are getting from the Chinese agencies might not entirely be truthful. In the end, only time will tell and the subsequent unfolding of events will determine how much faith we should place in the government agencies’ words.

The way forward

The WHO is paying close attention to what is going on in China. While there have been no travel restrictions to China, it may be wise to postpone any visits. If you must go, it may be best to keep the children home. This event also serves both as a warning and a learning point to other countries who are also slowly phasing out their COVID-19 restrictions. COVID isn’t the only respiratory infectious agent and health agencies across the world would do well to identify how best to return their societies to normal without causing outbreaks similar to what is currently happening in China.


There is a big chance that what we have here is not going to lead to a pandemic reminiscent of COVID-19, and we just might be making much ado about nothing, worrying about what could eventually amount to a slightly aggravated case of the sniffles. Even if this were so, this event provides a learning opportunity. If utilized well, it could leave us more prepared for any real pandemics that could arise in the future.


Upsurge of respiratory illnesses among children-Northern China (n.d.). Upsurge of respiratory illnesses among children-Northern China – WHO Disease Outbreak News. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from

Zhao, F., Liu, G., Wu, J., Cao, B., Tao, X., He, L., Meng, F., Zhu, L., Lv, M., Yin, Y., & Zhang, J. (2013). Surveillance of macrolide-resistant Mycoplasma pneumoniae in Beijing, China, from 2008 to 2012. Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy, 57(3), 1521–1523.



Want to Stay Informed?

Join the Gilmore Health News Newsletter!

Want to live your best life?

Get the Gilmore Health Weekly newsletter for health tips, wellness updates and more.

By clicking "Subscribe," I agree to the Gilmore Health and . I also agree to receive emails from Gilmore Health and I understand that I may opt out of Gilmore Health subscriptions at any time.