Nearly 30 per cent of its emergency department visits from mid-September to mid-October have been for respiratory-related illnesses — an increase of 10 per cent from before the pandemic.
“We’re doing lots of viral testing and we’re showing that it’s not really COVID that’s causing these increases in rates of infection, but it’s the common cold viruses and increased rates of things called RSV or parainfluenza,” said Dr. Claire Seaton, a pediatrician at BC Children’s Hospital.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has the same symptoms as a cold and is very common and contagious, but “usually not something to worry about,” according to HealthLink BC.
Seaton said it can lead to worse conditions, however, in infants or children who were born premature or have other medical vulnerabilities.
There were no reported cases of RSV last winter, she added, but with cases popping up earlier than usual this year, the hospital is projecting an increase.
“We do know that you normally get these viruses by the time you’re two years of age and you develop natural immunity to it,” Seaton explained.
“So the experts are suggesting there may be what’s called an immunity debt, or a lack of these viruses and our immunity responses won’t quite be up to scratch compared to previous.”
Public health measures in place to prevent COVID-19, she added, likely prevented the spread of these respiratory viruses last year.
COVID-19 rates are low at the BC Children’s Hospital, but in a news release, it said testing for the virus has increased 40 per cent from September as children present similar symptoms.
Seaton and other physicians are speaking up about RSV and parainfluenza early so parents know what symptoms to watch for, and when they should bring their children to the emergency room.
Symptoms include cough, a stuffy or runny nose, a mild sore throat, earaches, and fever.
“We are seeing longer than normal wait times at the moment with these increased respiratory illnesses,” Seaton told Global News.
“It’s still important to remember to come to the emergency department if you’re worried about your child.”
Quebec has seen a sharp spike in RSV, she added, and B.C. is preparing for the same.
Parents can help protect their children by vaccinating them for COVID-19 if they’re eligible, making sure routine immunizations are up to date, and getting their children the flu shot.
On Wednesday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix echoed that message.
He said the province has purchased 2.46 million doses of influenza vaccine for the public in anticipation of an increase in respiratory illnesses this season.
“We want people to stay well,” he told reporters. “My recommendation is, get vaccinated for the flu and get vaccinated for COVID-19.”