B.C. Children's Hospital ER seeing increase in number of patients with respiratory viruses
An “unusually high” number of patients with respiratory viruses have been showing up over the past month at the B.C. Children's Hospital emergency department, according to the hospital.
General pediatrician Dr. Claire Seaton said nearly 30 per cent of all emergency department visits from mid-September to mid-October were for respiratory-related illnesses, up nearly 10 per cent from before the pandemic.
"Looking at data from before COVID, we’re probably seeing around 300 more children in the last month than we did two years ago," she said. "Of course, during COVID and last season, we really didn’t see any of these winter viruses at all."
The hospital said it’s seeing more cases involving respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and parainfluenza, and earlier than usual.
RSV is one of the common cold viruses, and usually causes mild illness or bronchiolitis in young infants. Symptoms can be more severe in babies under six months old, especially those who were born premature or have chronic heart or lung conditions. The hospital said B.C. did not see any reported cases of RSV last winter.
"So we are expecting a higher rate, and earlier rates of RSV infection, and we think that’s just starting to happen here," Dr. Seaton said. "It’s already happened in other places around the world. For example in Quebec, they’re busy with hospitalizations for those conditions and we’re getting prepared for it to happen here."
Parainfluenza is an infection that can cause symptoms ranging from a mild cold, to more severe illnesses including croup and pneumonia. It can also trigger asthma in children.
B.C. Children’s Hospital said the emergency department has also been testing a high number of children for COVID-19, on about 30 per cent of ER visits, which may correlate with visits for respiratory illness. Of more than 1,200 tests processed through the emergency department over the last month, less than two per cent came back positive, and there were no hospitalizations.
"COVID is definitely what we’re all talking about," Dr. Seaton said. "But right now it’s all these other respiratory viruses that are important, and are probably going to put our kids more likely into a hospital bed or into the emergency department than COVID itself."
Often, RSV goes away on its own and can be treated at home. Young babies and those born prematurely sometimes need treatment in hospital. B.C. Children’s is asking families to keep an eye on their children’s symptoms, and head to the emergency department if they notice difficulty breathing, grunting sounds, breathing really hard, or if the child is turning pale or blue.
The hospital is also reminding parents the safety measures associated with COVID-19 can also help protect children from other viruses, including staying home when sick, washing hands, and following mask mandates.
On Tuesday, B.C. also made flu shots free for all who are eligible, in the hopes of encouraging more vaccination to reduce strain on the health-care system.
Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre medical director Dr. Brian Conway said the return of influenza is a concern, in part due to the lack of community immunity from last year.
"Instead of several thousand cases last year, we had 18 or 19," he said. "We base this year’s vaccine on last year’s flu season. There was no flu season. This year’s vaccine is an educated guess...and finally, we do not know what combined infection with influenza and COVID looks like."
Dr. Conway said increased interactions are likely also behind the resurgence of other respiratory viruses this year.
"Last year at this time, we were interacting with each other at a rate that was 40 per cent of the pre-covid normal," he said. "Now we’re at 80 to 90 per cent."
Flu shots have already been rolling out this week in the province. London Drugs pharmacy division general manager Chris Chiew said the initial response has already been strong.
"We’ve been booked up solid for all of this week, and all of next week as well," he said, and added there will be more supply provided to pharmacies this year following record demand last year. "We just ask everybody be patient for the first couple of weeks, you will definitely get your shot."
Dr. Seaton said along with the influenza vaccine, routine childhood immunizations are also important, including pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenza type B vaccines, which can prevent complications of viral infections.
"Antibiotics don’t treat these viral infections, the vast majority just need a bit of tender loving care at home," she said. "Fluids, keeping your child comfortable, looking out for those severe signs of illness and knowing when to come into the emergency department."
For more information on when to bring your child to the hospital, click here.