Wednesday November 9, 2022 | VANCOUVER ISLAND, BC [Updated 4 pm]
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. | Island Social Trends
A surge in acute viral respiratory infections is being seen at pediatric hospitals in Canada.
Last week the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) got the ball rolling with news that they had cancelled some non-urgent surgeries, procedures and clinic appointments. They were also redeploying clinicians to free up staff in response to what they called a ‘major surge’.
Yesterday they further reassigned their surgical day unit and redeployed clinicians from all areas of the hospital to open a second pediatric intensive care unit.
CHEO said last week that it was “well beyond its capacity and wait times are, unfortunately, historically long” as respiratory illness season gets underway. [Children’s hospitals dealing with flu, COVID & RSV – Nov 2, 2022]
The illnesses causing pressure on the pediatric systems include respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), COVID-19 and the seasonal flu.
BC Children’s Hospital:
Last week Island Social Trends was one of the first media outlets to contact BC Children’s Hospital to inquire about the impact of respiratory illnesses on their operations.
BC Children’s Hospital Chief Operating Officer Sarah Bell said BCHC is seeing more visits to the Emergency Department (ED).
Prior to April 2021, there were 135 visits per day. Now the ED averages 142-150 visits per day. This is up 20% when compared to this time last year.
“We are beginning to see an increase in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases, which is expected based upon trends we are seeing from other parts of Canada and across the globe,” said Bell.
“The rate we are seeing remains relatively low but we are proactively prepared to respond to a respiratory surge and have set up an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) at our hospital. Activating an EOC is a frequently used practice to proactively manage patient access and flow at virtually all acute-care facilities.”
“In our ED, we have been seeing mainly viral illnesses, gastroenteritis, fevers, nausea and vomiting, and upper respiratory tract infections,” said Bell.
Signs of respiratory illness:
Parents can look out for signs of respiratory illness in young children and infants. BCHC says to head to your local emergency department if parents see their children:
- have difficulty breathing
- make grunting sounds
- breathe really hard
- turn pale/blue
If you’re not sure whether your child needs care, see the BCHC website for when to bring your child to the Emergency Department and the common symptoms to look for.
Preventing viral spread:
There are also things we can all do to help prevent the spread of all respiratory illness this season. This includes:
- Get all recommended vaccines including influenza and COVID-19 booster vaccine doses
- Stay at home if you feel unwell. While unwell, try and avoid spending time with people at higher risk of serious illness.
- Practice respiratory etiquette: Wear a mask in indoor public spaces, cough and sneeze in your elbow.
- Clean your hands regularly and avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, mouth and nose
Staffing resource challenges are a reality across the entire health-care system. We are continuing to support our clinical staff in the ED to help alleviate the pressures that they continue to face in providing 24/7 emergency care to children and youth.
Annual flu in children:
In October BCHC published a news release about the importance of adults getting a flu shot in the winter season.
BCHC says one in four children gets flu every year, and that “children are also at the highest risk for complications”.
Flu affects everyone:
Healthy people can get very sick from the flu. “It can trigger a fever that can last three to four days, a severe headache, aches and pains, up to three weeks of fatigue, a runny nose, sneezing, coughing and a sore throat. Children can also experience nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Complications can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure,” says BCHC.
Infected people can spread the flu up to one day before and five days after they start showing symptoms. Getting sick with the flu can put others at risk of life-threatening complications, including very young children, seniors 65 and older, and people who have lung or heart disease, chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems.
Healthy pregnant women who get the flu in the second half of their pregnancy are also at greater risk of hospitalization, says BCHC.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s so common that most children have been infected with the virus by age 2.
RSV can cause severe infection in some people, including babies 12 months and younger (infants), especially premature infants, older adults, people with heart and lung disease, or anyone with a weak immune system (immunocompromised).
Taking health-care system action:
BCHC has not provided specifics as to staffing reorganization during flu season.
But at the children’s hospital in Ontario, they are taking a series of measures to ensure that young people get the “emergency, critical and acute care they need”. Those actions include:
- Postponing some non-urgent surgeries and procedures to free up staff
- Postponing some clinic appointments to free up staff
- Redeploying clinicians with critical care skills who may be working in other parts of CHEO to help in the CHEO ICU
- Reassigning staff to support emergency, acute and critical care needs
- Scheduling staff from across CHEO who have put up their hand to support care teams in non-clinical ways
- Expanding staffing and clinic hours at the Kids Come First and East Ottawa Kids Clinic
- Quickly hiring more staff and getting them on the floors.
Vaccination is encouraged by public health for persons of all ages (in BC the COVID vaccine is available for ages 6 mo and up).
As people congregate indoors in the cold fall and winter seasons, the spread of airborne viruses between people is more prevalent.
Illness in the community puts pressure on the health care system and community support services as well as schools.
Back in September, BC Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry announced the rollout of vaccines for COVID-19 and flu in BC for the fall/winter season.
When older children and adults are immunized it helps reduce the impact of viral spread of respiratory viruses. People may still be exposed to airborne viruses but dealing with related illness (as well as hospitalization and death) is seen to be minimized among people who are immunized. BC Health data for over two years of the COVID pandemic is showing that.
COVID included in respiratory disease data:
Last month, the BC Centre for Disease Control launched a new data platform for respiratory diseases.
COVID-19 data will now be integrated with data for other respiratory pathogens and will be available through an interactive data reporting platform at: Respiratory Diseases
Local fundraiser for BC Children’s Hospital:
The annual tree-decorating fundraiser at SEAPARC Leisure Complex in Sooke is back this year, after taking a break during COVID.
It will be held on Tuesday November 22 from 6 to 8 pm. Everyone welcome. [Event calendar]
Children’s hospitals dealing with flu, COVID & RSV (November 2, 2022)
Ramping up Fall 2022 COVID & flu immunization in BC (September 6, 2022)
Make sure children are up to date on all their vaccines as part of back-to-school preparations (August 27, 2022)
Wearing masks during Fall 2022 COVID season (August 5, 2022)
===== ABOUT ISLAND SOCIAL TRENDS:
The Island Social Trends online news portal at islandsocialtrends.ca includes a focus on health, education, economy and politics.
Island Social Trends editor is Mary P Brooke, B.Sc.