China is reinforcing its grassroots facilities to cope with the outbreak of seasonal respiratory illnesses among children, in a bid to ease the pressure on major hospitals at this time.
A number of children's hospitals in Beijing, Tianjin and other cities said they have been dealing with a surge in child patients affected by respiratory illnesses in recent weeks, with waiting times for an emergency hospital appointment stretching to three hours or more.
The National Health Commission said on Thursday in an interview with Xinhua News Agency that it has directed local health authorities to implement stratified care and instruct higher-level medical institutions to provide technical assistance to grassroots facilities, especially to improve their ability to diagnose and treat common infections, as well as increase their efficiency in identifying and transferring serious cases.
"Major hospitals are more crowded. Waiting hours are longer and the risk of cross-infections is greater," said the commission. "Children displaying mild symptoms are advised to first visit grassroots medical institutions or the children's department in general hospitals."
Patients who get a clear diagnosis and treatment plan from children's hospitals are also advised to transfer to community clinics or return home for further treatment, it added.
Multiple infectious respiratory illnesses are on the rise this winter, particularly influenza, mycoplasma pneumonia, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus and other pathogens that children are most susceptible to, according to the commission.
The positivity rate of influenza across China continued to rise between Nov 13 and 19, with 205 influenza-like infection clusters reported during that period, compared with 127 the previous week, the Chinese National Influenza Center said on Thursday.
The current dominant strain is H3N2, a subtype of influenza A virus, the center said.
Last week, Aviation General Hospital in Beijing said the number of patients visiting its children's department had stood at 550 to 650 in recent days, up by 30 to 50 percent from the same period last year.
Wang Quanyi, chief epidemiologist at the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said in an interview this week that influenza, adenovirus and respiratory syncytial virus are now the top three most common infections among children in Beijing. Mycoplasma pneumonia cases are in fourth place, but infections have been falling.
Across the entire population, influenza, rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus are the most common issues, he said.
"Due to the co-circulation of multiple pathogens, the total number of infections is rising and will plateau at a high level for a long time, putting pressure on medical systems," he said.
Zhao Chengsong, vice-president of Beijing Children's Hospital, which is affiliated with Capital Medical University, said in an interview with Beijing Radio and Television Station that working parents are advised to make full use of online hospitals.
"For instance, if a child has already undergone exams and tests at a medical facility and appears to be doing well after taking medicines, but needs to obtain more medicines from our hospital for further treatment, their parents should visit our online hospital to get medicines," he said.
"It is not recommended to visit children's hospitals at the first sign of fever. Respiratory pathogens tend to cross-infect more easily in closed environments with large gatherings," he added.