‘Unprecedented’ traffic in children’s ER prompts call for parents to know where to go in health-care system

As Health Sciences Centre’s children’s emergency department continues to grapple with a surge in flu season traffic, health-care providers are urging parents and caregivers to choose the appropriate health-care option for sick kids.

Dr. Elisabete Doyle, section head of pediatric medicine at HSC Children’s Hospital, said this influenza season came earlier than expected, combining the effects of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and COVID-19.

According to Doyle, 174 patients visited the children’s ER Monday. Sixteen were ultimately admitted, half of which had respiratory illness.

“Although we’re still seeing some COVID, we are seeing a lot of RSV and influenza, influenza A in particular,” Dr. Doyle said in a news conference Tuesday.

“Our care teams continue to see children who are testing positive for multiple viruses at one time.”

Doyle said so far this month, her team treated 181 cases of influenza A, which is more than four times higher than the same month in 2019.

She said most have an ‘uncomplicated course’, but some develop complications like bacterial pneumonia or otitis media. Doyle notes parents and caregivers should look for worsening symptoms on day four or five as a sign to see a physician.

Additionally, her department saw 140 cases of bronchiolitis this month, a lung infection commonly caused by RSV. That number was three times higher than in November 2019.

To help alleviate the strain on the children’s ER, Shared Health launched a new website to help parents and caregivers determine where to take their sick or injured child, be it to the ER, to their family physician, or another health-care option.

It also gives information on dosing of adult-strength Tylenol or ibuprofen for kids over 11 kilograms. Young infants who weigh less must visit pharmacists.

Doyle believes more education on the appropriate health-care option could help curb traffic in the children’s ER.

“Most of the patients don’t need specific emergency treatment, so they could be seen at a physician’s office,” she said.

“I would suspect based on what we’re seeing, at least a 25 per cent decrease in the number of visits if we could have patients directed to the appropriate place for care.”

CHILDREN’S ER STILL MANAGING AMID CRISIS

While Dr. Doyle described the surge in traffic as a crisis last week, she notes the health-care system is still weathering the storm.

“We’re at a position right now where we’re still able to manage things,” she said.

“I would still say it’s a crisis, in the sense that it’s really challenging our resources. But, has it overcome our resources? No.”

Despite the fast and furious flu season, vaccination numbers in Manitoba remain low, with only six per cent of kids under four and six per cent of kids over four currently vaccinated against influenza.

Still, Doyle urges parents and caregivers to get children vaccinated, even if they already had the flu, as she anticipates this influenza season will last longer and peak at higher numbers.

“What we’re seeing is unprecedented, so we don’t know the direction that it’s going to go.”

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