Winnipeg children’s emergency department ‘in crisis’ amid spike in respiratory virus cases: medical director

Winnipeg’s children’s hospital emergency department is in crisis as it struggles to keep up with a spike in respiratory virus cases, the department’s medical director says.

On Tuesday, 178 children showed up at the hospital’s emergency department for care — about a 45 per cent increase from the number of kids expected this time of year before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Elisabete Doyle said.

“The children’s hospital emergency department right now is actually in crisis,” Doyle said outside the Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg’s Children’s Hospital on Wednesday.

“We’re seeing more volume and more acuity than we’ve seen even pre-pandemic, in large, large volumes. It’s unprecedented.”

The surge in cases of respiratory viruses in Manitoba over the last few weeks is linked to both how many respiratory viruses are circulating in the community and eased pandemic rules that have allowed those illnesses to re-emerge, Doyle said.

Some kids showing up to the emergency department are also what Doyle called relatively “immune naive” — meaning they haven’t been exposed to the respiratory viruses before, so when they do, they get sick.

Doyle said the respiratory virus season in Australia, which typically offers an indication of what’s to come in Canada, suggests the situation in Manitoba will likely get worse.

She urged parents to continue bringing their kids to the emergency department for certain symptoms.

Those include if they’re very sleepy and difficult to rouse, if they’re having a hard time breathing or pauses in breathing and if they’re not peeing at least three times in 24 hours, she said.

For most other symptoms, parents can likely avoid the crowded emergency departments and instead head to their family doctor or pediatrician, to urgent care or to a connected care walk-in clinic, Doyle said. 

She also asked parents to do what they can to help keep respiratory viruses from spreading even more in children. 

Those steps include washing their hands properly, covering their mouth and nose when they sneeze or cough, keeping their kids out of daycare or school when they’re sick, vaccinating them against illnesses they can be immunized against and bringing them to the right place for care.

“We have a shared responsibility, I think, in looking after our children,” Doyle said.

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