Why some kids on P.E.I. are battling summertime colds and flu

·3 min read
P.E.I.'s College of Family Physicians says doctors are seeing a lot of children with non-COVID-19 respiratory illnesses across the Island.  (Chepko Danil Vitalevich/Shutterstock - image credit)
P.E.I.'s College of Family Physicians says doctors are seeing a lot of children with non-COVID-19 respiratory illnesses across the Island. (Chepko Danil Vitalevich/Shutterstock - image credit)

If you've noticed your kids are getting sick more often lately, you're likely not the only one.

P.E.I.'s College of Family Physicians says doctors have been seeing a high number of children with non-COVID-19 respiratory illnesses recently.

Dr. Heather Austin, president of the college, said there are a number of factors that could be contributing to the increase, including the fact that throughout the pandemic children have had little exposure to these respiratory viruses.

"We are seeing a lot of upper respiratory illnesses within our population at this point in time," she said.

She said the lifting of mandates and public health restrictions also plays a role.

"Mostly it is moving away from the mandatory masking regulations and having us be in close proximity and able to spread all of the different viruses and pathogens that are in our environment to each other again."


Austin said many older people have built up an immunity to many of these viruses, but when it comes to children some are likely being exposed to certain viruses for the first, second or third time.

"They don't have that same built-up immunity so they're more likely to develop an infection from an exposure," she said.

Austin also said it may seem like children are catching colds or illnesses that simply won't go away. But it's more likely that the child is actually being infected with a number of different viruses, one after the other.

According to the province's latest flu data, there have been 50 lab-confirmed cases of the flu for the 2021-2022 season. The median age of those cases is about 12 years old.

Emergency room saw spike in illness too

The spike in respiratory illnesses is something emergency room physician, Dr. Trevor Jain has noticed as well.

"For the last six weeks we've seen an uptick in respiratory illnesses in the pediatric population and that mostly has to do with mandates changing," Jain said.

He said it is unusual to see increased respiratory illness at this time of year. Typically infections of flu and other viruses spike fall, winter or early spring among children, Jain said.

"We're talking anything from the common cold to RSV [respiratory syncytial virus], to croup, increased asthma due to viral infections, even some pneumonia," he said.

"That was a little unexpected but when you think about it, you know we have increased mixing of the population, dropping of mandates so it just goes to show that those public health measures pre-vaccination were very effective at limiting the spread of respiratory illnesses."


Jain said the emergency room is now starting to see the number of admissions for respiratory illnesses go down.

Dr. Austin said typically a virus could involve mild symptoms over three to five days, like a low-grade fever, congestion, cough, sore throat and a runny nose. Coughing can sometimes last for up to three weeks in some cases and just as the child is recovering, they pick up another virus.

"The times when you'd want to seek medical attention would be a persistent fever, certainly a fever beyond five days," Austin said.

"If they're very lethargic, sleepy, not themselves, not eating and drinking in the usual way."

She said if a child is in pain or struggling to breath they should also get medical attention.

To limit the spread of respiratory illness, Austin said people should make sure they are washing their hands regularly and to stay home if they feel unwell.

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