Respiratory illnesses in kids swamping children's hospital in Saskatoon, says pediatrician

Children are swamping emergency rooms with a variety of respiratory illnesses. (A3pfamily/Shutterstock - image credit)
Children are swamping emergency rooms with a variety of respiratory illnesses. (A3pfamily/Shutterstock - image credit)

A Saskatoon doctor says the city's children's hospital is at capacity.

Dr. Mahli Brindamour says many children are showing up to the emergency room sick from respiratory viruses.

"It's viruses and there is a huge variety of them that are causing difficulties breathing, particularly in kids less than five," Brindamour said.

"In December we had lots of troubles with influenza … this has subsided somewhat and then now we are seeing RSV coming back with a force, but also rhinovirus, metapneumovirus, all sorts of respiratory viruses," Brindamour said, adding babies in particular are at high risk of hospitalization.

Matthew Garand/CBC
Matthew Garand/CBC

Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, said the Jim Pattison Children's Hospital (JPCH) in Saskatoon is overwhelmed.

"We had many little children, infants, toddlers, you know, up into the teens who are so incredibly ill with the influenza and RSV that JPCH in Saskatoon was just overwhelmed with very sick children, and very scared and anxious patients," Zambory said.

Brindamour said hospital staff are exhausted and keeping up their current pace is unsustainable.

"We're seeing a lot more volume than we usually see, although January is usually peak respiratory season, but it is more busy than usual," she said. "And of course if we see more volume then the more severe cases will go with that as well."

CBC News
CBC News

Brindamour said the high number of pediatric patients coming to emergency rooms means some children have had to wait for 16 to 18 hours for a bed, and that the hospital has had to start making tough decisions in the past few days.

"We're even starting to think about redistributing material across the province and saying, are we going to run out of more intensive support like high flow or ventilators? We haven't, but we're starting to think about that as well and kind of choosing really wisely how we start it."

CBC
CBC

Zambory said the emergency room at JPCH is under pressure 24 hours a day.

"They're looking at over 200 per cent capacity at JPCH emergency room," Zambory said.

"They have a minimum 20 people waiting to be admitted with no beds at any given minute of the day in that emergency room."

Despite the numbers, Brindamour said that if you're worried about your child you shouldn't hesitate to come to the hospital.

"Usually, if you're wondering if you should go, that's probably a sign that you should," she said.

"A baby or a child who's struggling to breathe so much that he can't feed appropriately, doesn't pee their usual amount, has a fever that's prolonged like, let's say, more than three to five days of fever, they should probably get checked out.

"If they are breathing a lot faster than usual, or we see the skin in between the ribs sucking in when they're breathing, those are signs that the child should be assessed."

Brindamour said getting the flu shot and an up to date COVID-19 vaccine, and practising proper handwashing and cough etiquette, will help prevent severe infection.