Winnipeg mom warns parents after previously healthy toddler admitted to ICU with respiratory virus

A mother whose toddler was admitted to a Winnipeg intensive care unit with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is cautioning parents to be vigilant as a number of viruses are circulating this fall.

Lauren Kelly says her almost two-year-old daughter was healthy before October.

Earlier this month, the child caught COVID-19 and didn’t really recover, Kelly said.

She took her daughter to Health Sciences Centre last Friday, and the toddler was admitted to the pediatric ICU with a diagnosis of RSV after a course of asthma medication failed to address her breathing problems.

“She’s not the kind of kid we’d expected to take to emergency with a common cold,” Kelly said.

Symptoms of RSV resemble those from colds and flu, such as coughing, runny nose, fever and loss of appetite, but they can worsen and affect a child’s breathing.

Kelly’s daughter was moved out of ICU on Monday and is breathing much better, but the experience was “terrifying. Certainly not something I’d wish on any parent,” she said.

Kelly’s daughter is seen in pediatric ICU last week at Winnipeg’s Children’s Hospital, battling a severe case of RSV. She is now in a medicine unit and feeling better. (Submitted by Lauren Kelly)

The girl needs to be able to breathe without additional oxygen for at least 24 hours before being released from hospital. The family hopes to be able to take her home on Saturday.

Even so, Kelly says she’s worried about taking her daughter back to daycare because she’s now more susceptible to serious outcomes from other infections.

She hopes other parents will be careful, knowing that COVID-19, RSV and other viruses are going around.

Kelly’s husband holds their daughter at Children’s Hospital. The toddler had COVID-19 before contracting RSV, her mother says. (Submitted by Lauren Kelly)

“Parents need to know that this virus is going around and that it can cause severe outcomes in kids even with no risk factors. So that’s something I think parents need to keep an extra eye out for,” Kelly said.

Respiratory issues spike in Manitoba

On Thursday, the head of Health Sciences Centre said Winnipeg’s Children’s Hospital is seeing a spike in the number of children being admitted to hospital with respiratory issues, including RSV.

Since July, there have been 46 RSV-related hospitalizations at Children’s Hospital, a spokesperson for Manitoba Shared Health said in an email Friday.

There have been 11 RSV-related hospitalizations so far in October, two of which required admission to the pediatric intensive care unit, the spokesperson said.

In addition, 188 children have come to Children’s Hospital since July with acute bronchiolitis, which is caused by RSV in the vast majority of cases. There have been 36 of these cases so far in October, including 11 that were serious enough for the children to be admitted to hospital.

Dr. Elisabete Doyle is the medical director and section head of pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s Hospital. She says the early rise in RSV cases in the hospital is concerning. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Dr. Elisabete Doyle, the medical director and section head of pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s Hospital, says staff don’t typically see such a surge in RSV cases until November. This year, that surge started in July.

Doyle says the virus is particularly serious for babies under three months of age, premature infants or those with underlying conditions.

But any child should be taken to hospital if they’re experiencing serious symptoms, like a choking cough, if they’re very tired or if they have difficulty breathing, she said.

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, cold and flu season, and the many RSV cases, Doyle says staff at the hospital are worried.

“To some extent, we’re treading in waters that we haven’t tread in before. It’s a bit of the unknown. We have all these viruses — the perfect storm in terms of respiratory viruses, and we’re going to have to see what the future holds.”

The hospital is preparing by ensuring parents know where to take their kids when they get sick, and ensuring there’s enough space and staff to care for them.

However, staffing is an ongoing challenge in Manitoba, so Doyle asks parents to do their part.

“We have a shared responsibility in making sure that we get these things under control,” she said.

“The more parents can do at home in terms of keeping their own infants safe and minimizing exposure and [getting] vaccinated and those kinds of things, that will help.”