‘Exactly where we knew we’d be’: Early start to respiratory virus season in N.S.

Click to play video: 'Busier than usual respiratory illness season adds pressure to N.S. health system'
Busier than usual respiratory illness season adds pressure to N.S. health system
WATCH: With sicknesses like COVID-19, influenza and RSV circulating around us in Nova Scotia, the respiratory illness season is off to a busier start than usual. While the majority of cases do not require hospitalization, those that do add to the pressure the overall system is facing amid growing staffing shortages. Callum Smith reports – Nov 15, 2022

Respiratory virus season in Nova Scotia has started earlier — and more intensely — than usual, and it’s especially clear among the youngest population.

The IWK Health Centre’s pediatric ICU has been operating between 100 and 160 per cent capacity for nearly two weeks.

Working above capacity isn’t uncommon, but doing it for so long is out of the norm.

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is one illness on the rise. Currently, there are 119 known cases from the recent provincial report — many in children under the age of six.

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“This year, we’re starting to see it peak much earlier. Like it’s not even December yet. In Nova Scotia, our peak is usually in late February or early January,” said Dr. Joanne Langley, a pediatric infectious disease doctor and professor at Dalhousie University.

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“There are a number of concerns about the different RSV and influenza season we’re having this year.”

Langley said a prevention program for high-risk children is starting next week. She’s concerned about the young people getting infected, especially since RSV can be serious.

“The other concern of course is the ability of the health-care system to deal with a lot more ill people than we’re normally prepared to do,” she said.

When it comes to a growing number of Nova Scotians becoming ill in this “somewhat earlier and more distinct respiratory season than we’ve seen definitely in the last few years,” infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Barrett said “this is exactly where we knew we’d be.”

Click to play video: 'Dr. Isaac Bogoch answers questions about masks, hospitals and children’s medication'
Dr. Isaac Bogoch answers questions about masks, hospitals and children’s medication

RSV is an emerging illness in older adults too. It also circulates at the same time as other viruses, including influenza, rhinovirus and COVID-19.

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“That means you’ve got a respiratory virus out there. And not only the vulnerable, but the non-vulnerable are going to get sick,” said Barrett.

“We’ve got an already compromised workforce in almost every sector and even if you’re not dying, we are going to see a confluence of viruses coming out that’s going to significantly affect our ability to function as a society, not just our hospitals.”

She said it’s creating a stressful situation in health care, and that people can do their part to stave off infections.

“A few easy, simple things combined together are going to be necessary: vaccines, masks, tests, and staying home when you’re sick, if you can,” she said.

“(That’s) going to be key if we want to keep going and have the kind of Christmas we want for sure.”

When asked about masking mandates, Barrett said it’s incumbent on the community to take a lead.

“I’m hoping that people in the community see this and recognize it, and folks that are community-based organizations, businesses, groups out there can start taking some of the leadership around highlighting things that can be done without rules,” she said.

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The Department of Health declined two interview requests this week from Global News. In a statement, the department pointed to the importance of masking and vaccination.

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