Emergency rooms see ‘slight increase’ in young patients

While Winnipeg hospitals are overflowing with sick young people, Prairie Mountain Health says it isn’t seeing the same admission of children and infants at its health centres, although there has been a “slight increase” in pediatric respiratory illness at emergency departments.

One day after Doctors Manitoba president Candace Bradshaw said there was a “triple threat” of illnesses — COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus and influenza — in the province, daycares and hospitals in Westman are reporting measured optimism.

The contrary is true in Winnipeg, where children’s physicians have recently reported a surge of sick kids.

“We’re stretched right now. We’re stretched physically, we’re stretched mentally,” Dr. Karen Gripp, Health Sciences Centre Children’s Hospital emergency department medical director, said in an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press this week. “We want to do our best to address what the needs are, we want to keep patients safe and we need to focus on the highest acuity.”

On Sunday, 201 patients visited the ER, marking the highest, single-day patient count in at least several years, the Free Press reported. Many of the children arriving at the Winnipeg hospital are dealing with respiratory symptoms and some are testing positive for multiple viruses.

To avoid seeing the same outcome, Prairie Mountain Health is encouraging people to use preventative measures such as staying home when sick, mask wearing in public, hand washing, practising proper coughing and sneezing etiquette and sanitizing surfaces.

“With the current respiratory virus season, PMH strongly encourages everyone … to come out to do their part in reducing the severity of illness this season by getting their influenza, pneumovac and/or COVID-19 vaccine,” a PMH spokesperson stated in an email to the Sun.

Vaccine appointments can be made through the authority’s website.

Adhering to COVID-19-style precautions is also something Doctors Manitoba is recommending, including staying up to date with vaccines.

“Your help is needed to slow the spread of these viruses and protect your friends, family and those around you,” Bradshaw said.

Children are particularly affected by RSV and other respiratory viruses, and Bradshaw said the number of children coming into hospitals across the province is making it “difficult” to care for them.

“There are sicker children and babies coming in that need to be prioritized … this is really concerning and it’s something I’ve never seen.”

The YMCA of Brandon, which runs six daycare facilities across the city, hasn’t seen anything out of the ordinary for cold and flu season as far as attendance is concerned, said chief executive officer Lon Cullen.

Around five or six per cent of children are absent, said Cullen, who checked in with three of the centres on Thursday.

“At this time of year, we usually have the beginnings of the flu and stuffy noses,” he said. “Our child-care centres … have really great hygiene policies.”

The daycares also use cohorts, Cullen said, which helps slow the spread of illness.

“They try to keep the kids separated from the masses, so they work in small groups of eight or 16 [children] in a group, so it kind of reduces it.”

The Beautiful Plains School Division (BPSD), however, has noticed an uptick in the number of students and staff who are sick, said Supt. Jason Young. The school division, which includes schools in Neepawa, Brookdale, Carberry, Eden and surrounding colony schools, is experiencing between 20 and 35 per cent absences from ill students and staff.

“It varies quite a bit by school and by community,” Young said. “Some of it’s COVID-19, some of it’s the flu, some of it’s respiratory infections.”

The number of people out sick is around five to 10 per cent higher than during other cold and flu seasons, Young said. Schools in the division are also calling for sanitization and proper coughing and sneezing etiquette.

“Some of our kids and some of our staff are choosing to wear masks of their own accord,” Young said, even though masks aren’t mandated in the division.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun