ERs overflow as flu season comes early

MONTREAL – Taiye Homage brought his son up the ramp of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, saying he was bracing for a long wait.

Jeffery, 2, twisted his wrist the day before, and it didn’t look like it was getting better.

Inside the Children’s, parents and kids could be seen milling around the emergency room.

On the walls, signs advertised that waiting times could be received by text message.

It’s a sign of an early flu season.

“What we’re seeing is increased numbers of upper respiratory infections and gastroenteritis, and we’re seeing increased numbers from previous years,” said Dr. Sophie Gosselin of the Royal Victoria Hospital.

She estimates the number of patients in the ER this week alone is more than double at the same time last year.

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The timing of the outbreak is part of the problem – a lot of walk-in clinics are closed for the holidays.

Another part of the problem can be boiled down to overprotective parents.

“In general, parents will come to an emergency department and wait with their kids [to be seen for illnesses] they’d never wait for themselves,” said Dr. Dubravka Dicsic, of the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

“Fever in and of itself is not a very dangerous symptom, and colds are very common and there is no medicine for them. Children get over them fairly quickly.”

The province is encouraging the public to get flu shots and has a hotline – 811 – aimed at helping people find the best place to treat a milder illness.

There are serious side-effects to overcrowded ERs – one of these being the potentially increased wait times for people who have serious problems.

“If you have 20 patients who are coming in with exactly the same complaint, and you have one child who is seriously ill, it’s an added challenge to process those patients,” Dicsic said.