Nova Scotia Health officials are urging people to keep up with vaccinations, stay home when sick, wear masks — especially around people who are more vulnerable — and carefully choose which social gathering to attend amid a surge in cases of respiratory illnesses among young children.
Dr. Andrew Lynk, the chair and chief of pediatrics at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, said during a press conference Thursday that acute care services for children are "stretched, stretched, stretched."
"Get your vaccinations, folks. Get your vaccinations for goodness sakes and get your kids under five vaccinated ... don't wait because if you want to go to an emergency department with your sick two year old with a high fever and throwing up and wait for hour and hours and be sitting amongst everybody else, it's not a good situation."
Lynk said some of what he's seeing in the intensive care unit could be prevented.
"I just walked through our intensive care unit at the IWK today and there's little babies and even four year olds in with RSV, who are in the intensive care unit. We have other kids in with flu now, in the intensive care unit."
Lynk said it's going to get worse before it gets better if busy children's hospitals in Ontario and Quebec are any indication.
ICU stretched thin
"These are at historic levels I had never seen before in my career here since 1990 as a young pediatrician," Lynk said. "Normally, a very busy 24-hour shift at the IWK emergency department would be 120 to 140 kids. That would be very, very busy. We're consistently hitting between 150 and 180, even up to 200. And it's a big challenge and parents are having to wait hours and hours and hours."
The IWK's pediatric intensive care unit has been operating at 100-160 per cent capacity between Nov. 4 and Nov. 15. On Nov. 6, the IWK reported a record number of visitors — 200 — to its emergency department.
RSV infects the lungs and respiratory tract. It can result in severe infection in some people, including children under two and older adults with pre-existing conditions.
For most people, RSV leads to cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, cough and fever.
Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said the province would not be bringing back a mask mandate. He said the province is seeing a number of different respiratory viruses circulating in the community and a start to the influenza season that's six to eight week earlier than usual.
"This year the disease activity is high and ... it started earlier," Strang said. "We need to be prepared that this may continue for the next two to three months."
Strang said he understands that it can be difficult to stay home when sick, but said people should make it a priority.
He asked employers to to stop asking employees for sick notes because "this is an unnecessary pressure on the health-care system."
Strang said people with mild symptoms should avoid going places they don't need to go. He also discouraged visiting elderly family or babies, even if they have the mildest symptoms.
People who have any symptoms need to wear masks, Strang said, to help curb the spread.
Finally, Strang reminded people to wash their hands, not touch their face and to cough and sneeze into their arm.
Most of the viral transmissions observed by Public Health are in private settings, Strang said. That's why a mask mandate wouldn't be effective at the moment because it would only apply to public spaces.
Australia had an earlier start to its flu season, Strang noted, but it was not prolonged or more severe than usual. He noted the highest rates in Australia were in children and adolescents.
Flu, cold viruses and RSV in Nova Scotia
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