Calgary’s top ER doctor says emergency room visits have risen significantly this year, making what is traditionally a very busy season even busier.
“In general, we’re seeing about 10 per cent more volume than we usually do this time of year, that’s multi-factorial, it’s not only the flu but it’s also a lot of bugs that are floating around,” said Dr. Eddy Lang, department head of emergency medicine for the Calgary zone.
According to Alberta Health Services, there have been 53 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness (GI) in the Calgary zone since August, including 10 that are still considered active.
This time last year, Calgary had experienced 47 outbreaks. An outbreak is declared in a care facility when there are two or more cases within a 48-hour period, while a school outbreak is declared when 10 per cent of the population is reported ill with GI symptoms on a given day.
The flu season has also hit Calgary hard. Since August, there have been 1,640 lab-confirmed cases reported to AHS, 375 people have required hospitalization and six people have died.
Adding to the pressure are injuries related to slips and falls on the winter ice, as well as heath concerns related to drugs and alcohol.
“This is also a time of revelry, so people are coming in, having gone overboard with alcohol use and getting into all sorts of trouble that way. Whether it be from alcohol poisoning or some of the behaviours that follow drinking too much — fighting or assaults or accidents.”
Lang says so far, Calgary’s emergency departments are coping well with the increase in patient volume and extra physicians have been staffed to help meet the surge in demand. Still, he says, the period between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day is typically the department’s busiest because many other health-care providers are often closed during that time.
“Emergency departments are far less busy in the early morning hours and if it’s at any way possible for patients to time their visit — I know if it’s an emergency you often can’t — but if it’s something that has some flexibility, coming in early is a lot better.”