Manitoba health officials say more flu shots would help ease strain on health care

WINNIPEG — The number of children seeking treatment for respiratory viruses at the children's hospital in Winnipeg is unprecedented for this time of year, a top doctor at the facility said Tuesday.

So far this month, the hospital has seen three times the normal amount of children testing positive for the seasonal flu, and the system is being strained.

"We're managing," said Dr. Elisabete Doyle, medical director and section head of pediatric medicine at the hospital.

"We are seeing all of the sick kids that need to be seen. I don’t think anybody is at risk at all, but it is very challenging."

Manitoba is battling three viruses; COVID-19, the seasonal flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. The flu and RSV occur every year, but have come early and simultaneously this year and are affecting children predominantly.

Doctors Manitoba, which represents some 4,000 physicians and medical students, has warned that hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed.

One factor appears to be a low uptake this year of flu shots among children. Provincial data says it is a little above six per cent.

"Part of that may be related to the fact that during the pandemic ... people were just not immunizing (for the flu) and so this year, they've been kind of late to get to the table," Doyle said.

Doyle and Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, 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.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2022

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press