An explosion of influenza cases continues to place pressure on the largest children’s hospital in the Maritimes.
A top doctor with the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says the early start along with the severity of cases could mean a hectic holiday season, especially if work isn’t done to cut down on the spread.
Dr. Andrew Lynk is the Chief and Chair of Pediatrics at the IWK. He says the hospital is seeing an unprecedented number of kids with respiratory viruses like the flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV) because they weren’t exposed during the pandemic. COVID-19 is also still making the rounds along with the common cold.
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“So we’re getting slammed because a lot of kids under the age of five didn’t see the flu, haven’t seen RSV,” Lynk says.
“So in addition to the normal young ones under the age of one or two who would never have seen it because they weren’t born, you’ve got that older group who haven’t seen it. So it’s kind of a double whammy in terms of the volume and the numbers of kids who are getting quite sick.”
A new report from the province shows cases of the flu are continuing to climb amongst most age groups.
It has released its latest Respiratory Watch report, which shows 673 new influenza cases were identified between November 27 to December 3.
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The one exception is those aged five to 19, with that age group seeing a decline when compared to the previous report, from 166 to 146. However, Lynk says the report only contains cases that have been reported, adding that the spread in the community is likely much higher.
The IWK’s emergency room has been seeing a steady stream of visits from sick kids and their parents, according to Lynk.
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Jordan Campbell went there on Friday with his son, who had been sick for several days. He was expecting a long wait but says his boy was treated fairly quickly given the high demand.
“The wait was surprisingly good,” he says. “We were probably a total of three hours from admission to getting back out of the hospital. So pretty good. It was better than I would have thought based on what I’ve seen and heard.”
His son is in elementary school. He says his high-school-aged daughter also caught the bug going around, but is now on the mend after missing school for three days.
Lynk recommends pulling kids out of daycare if you have infants at home to help cut down on the spread.
“I would pull my little ones out of daycare for the next couple of weeks just to give those babies a break so they don’t pick up what’s going on right now, or at least give yourself a chance to get everybody vaccinated,” Lynk says.
He’d also like to see mandatory masking brought back to schools ahead of the holidays.
“If I could wave a magic wand, and unfortunately I can’t, but if I could, I’d love everybody in the schools to be masked right now for the next couple of weeks,” Lynk says. “My personal feeling is that it would make a difference.”
In a statement, the Department of Health and Wellness says it has nothing new to add in response to Lynk’s recommendations.
The department encourages vaccination to help reduce serious risks and illness.
“We don’t have anything more to add at this time,” the department says. “We would remind Nova Scotians that being up to date on vaccines is the best way to prevent or minimize the risk of severe illness and protect our friends, family, and communities. Nova Scotians should continue to take steps to protect themselves and loved ones from the spread of respiratory illness.”
The department also says it’s recommended Nova Scotians wear a mask to protect themselves and others when they are in a crowded, indoor place or feel sick.
During a press conference in late November, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, said the tools used to curb the spread of COVID-19 were deployed to help get a grip on a new and serious virus. He explained those tools weren’t necessary for the flu when discussing the early start to the season.
“I’ve discussed masking mandates with this team and we are in strong agreement that at this time masking mandates would not be necessary or effective,” Strang said at the time. “However, we will continue to monitor our situation and would certainly change our position if we felt it was necessary.”
A letter from Dr. Stang was sent home to families of students on Monday. He recommended, given the rise in respiratory viruses, ensuring families are vaccinated. He also advised staying home when you’re sick and wearing a mask if feeling unwell in public spaces.
According to the Respiratory Watch report, there have been 15 deaths so far this season where the individuals had a positive influenza test result.
The report says influenza may or may not have been the major contributing cause of death or hospitalization.
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