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B.C. emergency room doctor on why Boxing Day may be busiest day of the year

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For B.C.’s emergency room doctors, Dec. 25 is the calm before the storm.

“A lot of people think that Christmas is very busy, so what happens is they put things off until Boxing Day. Boxing Day is the storm,” said Dr. Michael Curry, an emergency room physician at Delta Hospital.

“It’s almost always one of our busiest days of the year, if not the busiest day of the year.”

He said there are several reasons for the Boxing Day rush.

“A lot of people get together on Christmas, and particularly with elderly relatives, they may not have seen them for a couple of weeks beforehand. So, if something has gone wrong, family might not realize that until they see the grandmother they may not have seen for a week or two on Christmas, and they wait 'til Boxing Day to come to the emergency (room)," said Curry.

The ER is also busy on Dec. 26 because so many other health-care facilities aren’t available.

“We realize a lot of doctors' offices and walk-in clinics and urgent care clinics will be closed on the holidays, so sometimes the emergency department is the only option you do have,” said Curry, who wants to remind British Columbians that the ER is for emergencies only.

“If you are sick with a respiratory infection, and we are seeing a lot of respiratory infections right now, most of the time you don’t need to see a doctor.”

There are some exceptions to that rule. B.C. is seeing a spike in invasive group A strep infections in children and teens. There above been 51 cases recorded in 2023, compared to 20 in a regular year.

The symptoms are often more serious than a regular respiratory infection.

“With this type of bacteria, especially if it causes a more severe infection, we will sometimes see that prolonged fever or a fever with a rash, the rash can look like a full-body, almost like a sunburn-type rash,” said Dr. David Goldfarb, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at BC Children’s Hospital.

A child presenting with these symptoms typically needs treatment.

“In these more concerning scenarios, it is important that they be assessed by a primary care provider or at the emergency department,” said Goldfarb.

The doctors say the vast majority of people with a cough, sore throat, runny nose or a mild fever don’t need to come to the ER.

“I definitely understand why people come to the emergency department, but emergency departments are for emergencies; that’s what we are best at,” said Curry.

“There will be a lot parties and a lot of get-togethers and a lot of family reunions. So I think we just need to be extra careful during this period of time,“ said Dr. Brian Conway, with the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre.

He says prevention is key, including hand washing, mask wearing, staying home while sick and getting vaccinated, things we all know how to do after years of pandemic practice. But the infectious disease specialist still expects to see a lot more patients over the holiday season.

“An upswing is usual,” Conway said. “But I think it can be managed if we do things right as we have learned to do.”  

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