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2018-01-09 12:59:01

A nationwide influenza epidemic has forced a top-tier hospital in northern China to suspend its pediatric services Sunday after all of the department’s overworked doctors fell ill.

Staff from Tianjin Haihe Hospital were quoted by Tianjin-based newspaper Metro Express as saying that each of the hospital’s three pediatricians had seen more than 60 patients a day since the start of winter. With the doctors at home nursing various illnesses, the hospital currently doesn’t know when the department will reopen. It did not respond to a phone call on Tuesday evening.

The recent development highlights China’s general lack of pediatricians, as well as the wide spread of influenza this winter. At a press conference held by the National Health and Family Planning Commission on Tuesday, a high-level official noted that flu infections are still on the rise.

This year’s influenza epidemic is different from those of past years because multiple viruses are spreading, the deputy director-general of the commission’s medical administration bureau, Jiao Yahui, said during the press conference. “A few patients have been infected by more than one virus, resulting in more severe conditions,” Jiao said. “That’s why the issue has received more attention this year, and why hospitals — especially pediatrics departments and emergency internal medicine departments — have been under great pressure.”

Data from the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that for the first week of January, the city’s 144 hospitals had seen an increase of 5.76 percent for influenza infections — down at least from the previous week’s 21 percent increase. As schools and kindergartens start their winter breaks at the end of this month, flu infections will further decrease, the center predicted.

In Shanghai, the municipal center for disease control and prevention also reported a particularly virulent flu season. Last month, the epidemic caused visits to internal medicine departments at the city’s children’s hospitals to peak at 3,200 per day, reported Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper.

In the last week of December, the pediatrics department at Shanghai’s Xinhua Hospital saw the number of outpatients rise by 6.7 percent from the week prior. Patients were kept waiting for hours to see a doctor: Even if some purposely visited the hospital after midnight, they might find hundreds of others waiting ahead of them. Pediatrician Yu Huiju suggested that parents first give their children fever medication and keep them home if they respond well.

“Cross-infections are almost unavoidable in the pediatrics department, given the high density of children who have come down with different ailments,” Yu told Sixth Tone. “That’s why a hospital visit is not recommended for any child with a fever: Parents need to make their own judgments.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A mother holds her child, who has come down with the flu, at a hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, Jan. 8, 2018. IC)