Respiratory illness cases on the rise amongst children in southern Alberta

Click to play video: 'Seasonal respiratory illnesses affecting kids early in southern Alberta: expert'
Seasonal respiratory illnesses affecting kids early in southern Alberta: expert
Fall and winter are typically what’s known as “cold and flu season” in Alberta. However, as Eloise Therien explains, this year is looking a little different in terms of what is affecting the younger population and when – Nov 15, 2022

‘Tis the season for coughing, sneezing and fevers in southern Alberta.

According to Dr. Vivien Suttorp, Alberta Health Service’s medical officer of health for the southern zone, spikes in respiratory illnesses are common in the fall and winter but this year is proving to be a departure from the norm.

“What is unusual right now is that the season is very early and we have three viruses that are circulating at the same time,” she explained.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza have likely been repressed due to COVID-19 and the variety of public health measures that were in place over the last couples of years.

Now, those viruses seem to be on the ascent.

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“The predominant one is influenza, and it’s influenza A (H3N2),” Dr. Suttorp said. “(It’s an) influenza strain that causes more severe illness than some of the others, and mainly in young children and in seniors.”

This, Suttorp said, is problematic due to low vaccine uptake.

According to the Government of Alberta website, as of Nov. 5, 2022 around 675,000 Albertans had received immunization against the flu.

As of that same date, there had been 891 lab-confirmed cases of seasonal influenza in the province, 146 of which resulted in hospitalization.

“Historically, even prior to the pandemic, we’ve seen a low uptake of influenza vaccine in children and even children with chronic conditions.”

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When it comes to impact on schools, some are seeing a decline in attendance, which may or may not be related to these illnesses.

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“In keeping with findings in other provincial school jurisdictions, Holy Spirit Catholic School Division is seeing a higher than average absentee rate of 12.4% across the division,” read a statement from superintendent Ken Sampson on Tuesday.

“While the precise reasons for these absences are unknown and will unquestionably vary, it is clear that families are keeping their children at home when they are unwell,” he continued.

“The division greatly appreciates families’ diligence and care in this, as it ensures the long term health of our wider school communities.”

The division said it will continue to seek advice from provincial medical experts and continue to monitor these absentee rates.

Meanwhile, the Lethbridge School Division said it’s monitoring a “slight increase” in staff absence due to illness this week, but didn’t provide student rates.

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“Typically, numbers have been consistent with what the Division would expect in a normal year,” a statement read. “These numbers do represent a snapshot in time, and the Division recognizes the situation could change rapidly.”

At Little Sprouts Early Learning Centre, programs are offered for children aged 12 months to six-years-old.

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Maja Pecaver, who owns the facility, said they’ve had to deal with an increase in a variety of sicknesses, including pink eye, cold and flu.

“Probably around August we noticed way more illnesses and reoccurring illnesses within not only the children in our program but staff as well,” Pecaver said.

“We are still pretty diligent on sending sick children home because we obviously know that when sick children come then it spreads like wildfire.”

AHS reminds online resources for information on symptoms are available for parents, including the Health Education and Learning (HEAL) program.

Suttorp added, preventative measures like vaccination, masking, coughing into sleeves and washing hands are all effective strategies to mitigate spread.

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