RSV infections jump 800% in New Brunswick over last year

There have been 45 positive cases of RSV so far this year in New Brunswick, compared to five for the same time last year, statistics show. (Shutterstock - image credit)
There have been 45 positive cases of RSV so far this year in New Brunswick, compared to five for the same time last year, statistics show. (Shutterstock - image credit)

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, infections are up at least 800 per cent in New Brunswick, compared to last year, and the province is considering making it a reportable disease as cases continue to surge above expected levels among children across the country.

Forty-five New Brunswickers have tested positive for RSV, as of Nov. 12, based on data from the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre laboratory in Moncton alone, the latest figures posted by the Public Health Agency of Canada show.

That's up from five positive cases as of the same time last year, according to the national respiratory virus report.

Of this year's 45 cases, 14 — more than 30 per cent — were during the week ending Nov. 12, known as week 45, up from zero that week in 2021-22.

The rise in RSV, which infects the lungs and respiratory tract, comes as the province faces an increase in the flu, on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, commonly referred to as a triple threat, or tridemic, adding further strain on the health-care system.

Not monitored, communicated to public like COVID, flu

Although the province inputs RSV test data from the Dumont lab into the national surveillance system weekly, it's not a reportable disease in New Brunswick, unlike some other provinces.

That means it is not monitored or communicated to the public in the same way a reportable disease, such as COVID- 19 or the flu, with weekly reports, according to Department of Health spokesperson Adam Bowie.

If RSV was a reportable disease under the Public Health Act, "laboratory staff from all regional hospitals would have to submit the result to the regional public health team, where additional information would be collected about each case for analysis," he said in an emailed statement.

We'll certainly be looking at that in the near future to see if we should be considering adding that in. - Yves Léger, acting chief medical officer of health

New Brunswick does not have RSV as a reportable disease, "in large part because … it is a very common infection that affects pretty well all children by the age of two," Dr. Yves Léger, the acting chief medical officer of health, told reporters Friday.

"But that act gets revised regularly and we'll certainly be looking at that in the near future to see if we should be considering adding that in," he said.

Submitted by Dr. Yves Léger
Submitted by Dr. Yves Léger

Adding to the list of diseases and events that are reportable in New Brunswick under the Public Health Act requires a regulatory amendment, said the department spokesperson.

The province recently added monkeypox to the list.

"Where an emergent public health emergency exists, the Public Health Act also provides authority for the minister or chief medical officer of health to make an order declaring a disease a notifiable disease," Bowie said.

In adults and older, healthy children, RSV symptoms are typically mild and cold-like, such as runny nose, cough and fever.

But the virus can result in severe infection in some people, including infants, older adults, adults with heart or lung disease, or with a weakened immune system.

Research suggests that in some cases, infections in infancy may be linked to the later development of severe RSV or other long-term respiratory system impacts — and it's a virus that's capable of infecting people over and over again throughout their lives.

Reporting requirements vary

The reporting requirements for reportable diseases in New Brunswick vary, depending on how they're classified.

Part 1 diseases, such as COVID-19, invasive meningococcal disease and measles, for example, must be reported orally within one hour after identification, followed by a written report by the end of the next working day.

Part 2 diseases, such as monkey pox, rabies and pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, must be reported orally as soon as possible within 24 hours after identification, followed by a written report within one week after identification.

Part 3 diseases, such as laboratory-confirmed influenza, HIV/AIDS and Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, must be reported in writing within one week after identification.

Positivity rate also rising

New Brunswick recorded no positive cases of RSV at this time in 2020, three in 2019 and seven in 2018, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada data.

Officials believe infections dropped during COVID-19 protective measures, such as masking and physical distancing, and now children who weren't exposed are all being exposed at the same time.

New Brunswick's positivity rate has also increased to 1.4 per cent so far this year, from 0.3 per cent last year, the federal data shows.

For the week ending Nov. 12, the province's positivity rate jumped to 3.6 per cent.

The Atlantic positivity rate for that week was 9.2 per cent (171 cases). The breakdown includes:

  • Nova Scotia — 12 per cent,138 cases.

  • Newfoundland and Labrador — 7.8 per cent, 19 cases.

  • P.E.I. — 0 per cent, no cases.

The national positivity rate was 7.7 per cent (1,661 cases).

How N.B. compares to Atlantic, national numbers

The breakdown of cases reported so far this season, between Aug. 28 and Nov. 12 includes:

  • New Brunswick — 45 cases, 1.4 per cent positivity.

  • Nova Scotia — 257 cases, 6.8 per cent positivity.

  • Newfoundland and Labrador — 84 cases, four per cent positivity.

  • P.E.I. — eight cases, 1.6 per cent positivity.

  • Atlantic — 394 cases, 4.1 per cent positivity.

  • Canada — 6,574 cases, 4.1 per cent positivity.

The breakdown of cases reported last season, between Aug. 29 and Nov. 13, 2021, includes:

  • New Brunswick — five cases, 0.3 per cent positivity.

  • Nova Scotia — 14 cases, 1.9 per cent positivity.

  • Newfoundland and Labrador — eight cases, 0.2 per cent positivity

  • P.E.I. — two cases, 0.2 per cent positivity.

  • Atlantic — 29 cases, 0.4 per cent positivity.

  • Canada — 8,857, 8.5 per cent positivity.

Between August and November 2020, there were only 45 cases of RSV across the country. Of those, eight were in the Atlantic provinces — six in Newfoundland and Labrador and two in P.E.I.

The same three-month period in 2019 saw 328 cases recorded in Canada, four of them in the Atlantic — three in New Brunswick and one in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 2018, there were 355 national cases by this time, including 18 in the Atlantic. New Brunswick accounted for seven of them, Nova Scotia, three; Newfoundland and Labrador, eight; while P.E.I. had none.