A top doctor at the children’s hospital in Winnipeg says the facility has seen three times the normal number of children with the seasonal flu so far this month.
Dr. Elisabete Doyle, medical director and section head of pediatric medicine, took part in a telephone town hall Tuesday night with parents.
Before the meeting she said the rising number of kids with respiratory viruses is putting a strain on resources.
“We continue to see an unprecedented volume and acuity of presentation for this time of year,” she said during an availability with reporters Tuesday afternoon.
The children’s ER at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg first reported it was seeing “unprecedented” patient levels, last week.
Shared Health has said the department saw the highest single-day patient count “in at least several years” — 201 visits — on Nov. 13.
On Tuesday Doyle said the children’s ER saw 182 patient visits on Monday, 16 of which ended up admitted to hospital. She said there were eight patients in the hospital’s pediatric ICU (PICU) Tuesday morning, one off the PICU’s pre-pandemic baseline of nine staffed beds.
She said as of Tuesday morning there were 50 patients in the neonatal ICU (NICU), hitting the space’s normal capacity.
Doyle says a high number of flu cases now being seen at the ER comes on top of kids with COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
She said while the children’s ER hasn’t seen another day with more than 200 patients, the steady volumes are creating challenges for staff.
“What we’re seeing now is a sustained rate. So even though we’re not hitting 200 every day, we’re oscillating somewhere between sort of 175 to 200,” she said, adding the hospital normally expects to see between 130 and 140 kids a day this time of year.
“So the fact that we’re seeing 175 to 200 is a real stretch for us. We’ve had to be very, very creative.
“We’re managing — we’re seeing all of the sick kids that need to be seen. I don’t think anybody is that at risk at all, but it is very challenging.”
Doyle says Manitobans can help by getting their flu and COVID-19 shots, washing their hands, and staying home when sick.
But uptake on flu shots among children this year is low — provincial data says it is a little above six per cent.
Doctors Manitoba, which represents some 4,000 physicians and medical students, has warned that hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed in the near future.
As well as encouraging Manitobans to get vaccinated, wash their hands, and isolate when ill, Doctors Manitoba has also recommended wearing masks to prevent the spread of the respiratory viruses that are leading to hospital visits.
Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin has said there are no current plans to make mask use mandatory in indoor public places, as was done earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don’t have any limits on, say, private gatherings so masks in public could only have so much effect when we’re not going to be able to mandate it in private settings and all the interaction that goes on,” Roussin told The Canadian Press this week.
“We’re just not wanting to mandate it at this point. We don’t think that that’s going to be a necessary approach.”
Doyle and Rousin took part in a telephone town hall Tuesday night to answer questions and offer advice.
They urged parents to ensure children are up to date on immunization and stay home when sick.
They fielded questions that ranged from what symptoms require a hospital visit to the availability of flu shots.
One woman who said she worked in a child care centre said she was dealing with many sick children.
“It’s like a revolving door right now of children coming in sick and going home, and coming back sick,” she said.
Roussin said in the case of a respiratory virus with no specific diagnosis, children should stay home until their symptoms show noticeable improvement for at least two days. For COVID-19, it should be at least five days with no fever and clear improvement, he added.
–With files from Shane Gibson