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The BC Children’s ED is busy with respiratory viral illnesses

The BC Children’s Hospital Emergency Department (ED) is seeing more respiratory viruses than usual and we’re just starting to see the beginning of the predicted rise in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
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​As people move indoors this fall and more pandemic restrictions lift, the BC Children’s Hospital ED is dealing with an unusually high number of patients with respiratory viruses. 

Nearly 30 per cent of all BC Children’s Hospital ED visits from mid-September until mid-October have been for respiratory-related illnesses. That’s up nearly 10 per cent (or 300 more children) from the same time, pre-pandemic.

What BC Children’s is seeing as kids head back to school

The province saw no reported cases of RSV last winter, but this year, BC Children’s is seeing higher than normal RSV and parainfluenza numbers - and we're seeing them earlier.

“There have been growing rates of pediatric respiratory infections such as RSV over the last few weeks, plus increased hospital admissions for viral triggered respiratory illnesses such as bronchiolitis, croup or asthma,” says BC Children’s Pediatrician Dr. Claire Seaton.

RSV is one of the most common cold viruses and usually causes a mild illness, including a simple cold, or bronchiolitis in young infants. Symptoms can be more severe in infants under six months old, especially those who were premature or have chronic lung or heart disease. Some infants have significant difficulty with breathing or feeding and need hospital support.  

Parainfluenza is an infection that we’re seeing more now than previous years. It can cause symptoms that range from a mild cold, to more severe illnesses such as croup, bronchiolitis and pneumonia. It’s also known to trigger asthma in children. 

What parents can look for

“It’s really important, if you have a child with a chronic condition, such as asthma, that you’ve spoken to your health-care provider and reviewed your child’s medication or asthma action plan,” says Claire. “Is your child taking their regular medication properly, and do you know what to do if they get sick? Taking their preventor medication is a good way to reduce the effects if they get one of these viruses.”

Parents can look out for signs of respiratory illness in young children and infants. Head to your local emergency department if they:

  • have difficulty breathing
  • make grunting sounds
  • breathe really hard
  • turn pale/blue

How to protect your family

The layers of protection that we have been using for COVID-19 will also protect us from other viruses:

  • Keep children and youth home when they are sick
  • Make sure kids wash their hands frequently and cough or sneeze into their elbow
  • Get vaccinated: In addition to the importance of COVID-19 vaccine for everyone aged 12 and up (children aged five to 11 can now register), other vaccines are important. Influenza vaccine is important this year for those above six months. Infants also receive pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenza type B vaccines as part of their routine childhood immunizations, which help prevent complications of viral infections (such as pneumonia and bacterial ear infections). 
  • Follow the current public health advice, which includes an updated indoor mask mandate for children aged five and up in public spaces.

How is COVID-19 affecting this respiratory season?

The BC Children’s ED is also testing a high number of children for COVID-19 (about 30 per cent of ED visits, which may happen in tandem with respiratory illness visits). Of the more than 1,200 COVID-19 tests processed through the BC Children’s ED in the last month, a total of less than two per cent came back positive and none had to be hospitalized. 

Province-wide, children and youth aged 19 and under have been hospitalized for COVID-19 at a rate of two per cent of all cases in B.C., since the beginning of the pandemic.

Is your child sick? 

For most people, RSV goes away on its own and home treatment is all that is needed. Babies younger than six months, especially those born early (prematurely), sometimes need treatment in a hospital. So it's important to watch the symptoms and call your doctor if they get worse.

If you’re not sure whether your child needs care, read this article on when to bring your child to the ED and the common symptoms to look for on the BC Children’s website

If your child needs to be tested for COVID-19, find a Collection Centre near you with this BCCDC map.

There’s also resources on Comforting a Child Who Has a Respiratory Illness on HealthLinkBC. 

BC Children's Hospital; Respiratory illness; RSV; Respiratory Synticial Virus; croup; asthma; Bronchiolitis
Children's Health
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