VANCOUVER — B.C. Children’s Hospital reported Wednesday a spike in non-COVID-19 respiratory viral illnesses, such as colds and flus in children.
That means the emergency room has been busier than normal and long waiting times can be expected.
Thirty per cent of all cases in the hospital’s emergency department in the past month have been children with respiratory illnesses, said Dr. Claire Seaton, a pediatrician at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
Rates of severe infection caused by COVID-19 remains low and overall only two per cent of people hospitalized in B.C. are under the age of 19.
“That hasn’t changed but what has changed is we are seeing a lot of other viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus, and parainfluenza, along with some of the other common cold viruses.”
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common virus that causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract, and most children have been infected with the virus by age two. RSV symptoms are mild in healthy children and adults but the virus can cause severe infection in some people, including older people, and those with heart and lung disease, or anyone with a weak immune system.
Seaton said they didn’t see many children with colds or flus last year, so they are worried it’s going to get a lot busier in the emergency department because of the RSV surge.
It is not unusual to see a spike in cold and flu viruses after kids go back to school in September and October but this year the kids may have reduced immunity to these common illnesses because it just wasn’t around last year.
Public health measures such as wearing masks, keeping a physical distance, washing hands, and getting a flu vaccine can help to keep the kids safe, she said.
Part of the reason for the surge at B.C. Children’s may be because parents are worried their child has COVID-19 so they take them to the emergency room.
Seaton said if a child has a cough or the sniffles then it’s best to keep them home from school or take them to get a COVID test, but it’s not always necessary to go to the emergency room.
“I think it’s important to realize that the viral surge has already increased hospitalization rates in other parts of Canada,” she said. “So the RSV surge, which normally happens in November, is happening earlier this year … and we are starting to see those cases here.”
If parents are worried about their child’s illness they can check symptoms on the B.C. Children’s Hospital website.
“For respiratory illness, you should take your baby or young child to an emergency department if they have trouble breathing, significant problems with breathing or lips that look blue, and if your baby can’t suck or drink or feed very well,” she said, adding infants younger than three months with a fever should also be brought in to the ER.
Doctors and health experts are recommending that children six months and older get a flu vaccine this year, especially because of the potential for reduced immunity.
“Last year, the rates for RSV infection were very low or basically non-existent so we have a whole year’s worth of children who did not get those viruses so their natural immunity is potentially lower,” she said.