GOP lawmakers question CDC director about rise in respiratory viruses in China

GOP lawmakers question CDC director about rise in respiratory viruses in China

In her first appearance before Congress as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mandy Cohen faced a barrage of questions Thursday from Republicans about… A new spike in respiratory illnesses in China and whether the agency got it wrong Early recommendations to contain the Corona virus.

The hearing represents one of Cohen’s first public opportunities to restore confidence in the agency, which has become a punching bag for Republicans who have opposed school closures, vaccine mandates and mask requirements in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Cohen’s appearance came as clusters of pneumonia in Chinese children emerged as the latest public health issue embroiled in geopolitical conflict.

GOP lawmakers described the increased viral activity as suspicious and reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic. But Cohen joined other public health experts in describing the situation as the usual fluctuations of any respiratory virus season.

“We don’t believe this is a new or new pathogen,” Cohen testified before the House committee that oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She said the increase was driven by familiar threats: COVID-19, influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and mycoplasma, a bacteria that can infect the lungs.

Experts say what is happening in China may be the result of children being exposed to pathogens they were not exposed to while social distancing to avoid contracting the coronavirus. This has been a trend observed around the world, including in the United States last year amid an unusual surge in RSV. China has finally eased its strict restrictions against the coronavirus December 2022, Long after other countries had done so.

“You have three years’ worth of these individuals fueling these respiratory viruses,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It makes sense biologically, and is not surprising given that many countries in the world experienced this last year.”

Authorities from China’s National Health Commission in November attributed this rise In respiratory diseases of known pathogens and lifting coronavirus restrictions.

Republican members of Congress said the Chinese government’s assertions should not be trusted, especially after Chinese officials shared little information about the new coronavirus threat from Wuhan.

“It takes us back, unfortunately, to the early days of Covid-19,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The lack of reliable information coming out of China is a worrying parallel to 2020.”

But public health experts who have criticized China’s ambiguous coronavirus response say they see no such similarity.

“Both of these things could be true: China can be deceptive, it can be very mysterious, China can withhold a lot of information, but it is also possible that this outbreak is normal,” Adalja said.

Cohen told the committee that CDC staff working in China reported no new pathogens. She added that this was confirmed by “other sources from our partners in the European Union and others to ensure that we get a complete picture.” CDC spokespeople did not immediately clarify what type of corroborating information Cohen was referring to.

The World Health Organization says it has asked China to share more epidemiological and clinical information about clusters of pneumonia in children. Lawmakers who do not trust the World Health Organization after its dealings with China during the coronavirus crisis called on the Biden administration to do more.

“We hope you can put some pressure on trying to get China to not mislead the world like it did with COVID-19,” Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), Chairman The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which conducted the hearing, told Cohen.

Yanzhong Huang, a global health fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said there is no evidence so far to suggest that the Chinese government’s explanation for the recent rise in respiratory viruses lacks credibility. But he says concerns about sharing health information post-Covid-19 remain, noting that the agreements that came out of the last meeting between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not include public health.

“The problem still exists, so we can’t take what the government says categorically,” Huang said. “There is no serious dialogue between the two governments on how to cooperate with each other.”

While the United States is seeing a particular spike in respiratory viruses, Cohen said the agency expects a similar level of hospitalizations as last season. Respiratory syncytial virus is nearing its peak, she said, but flu season is just starting in most parts of the country and Covid remains the main driver of hospital admissions for respiratory illness with 15,000 admissions per week.

The hearing was largely amicable, though Cohen also took pointed questions from Republicans who tried to persuade her to say the CDC had erred in its previous guidance on masks and coronavirus precautions in schools. She did not budge, noting that public health officials worked with less information and no vaccines in the early stages of the pandemic.

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