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B.C. Children’s Hospital sees influx of emergency visits for respiratory viruses

Around 30 per cent of emergency patients are being seen for non-COVID respiratory infections
People walk pass a sign for flu shots. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Doug Ives

While COVID-19 is the respiratory virus that’s been dominating headlines for the past 20 months, at B.C. Children’s Hospital the story is all about other viral respiratory illnesses.

The hospital is seeing an influx in cases of the respiratory syncytial virus and parainfluenza, two common viruses. Roughly 30 per cent of all emergency visits to B.C. Children’s in the last month have been related to non-COVID respiratory illnesses.

RELATED: Flu season in Canada ‘exceptionally low’ so far, public health says

B.C. Children’s Hospital has experienced higher numbers of COVID-19 tests, with about 30 per cent of emergency visits getting tested. Less than two per cent of those tests came back positive.

Last year’s flu season was largely skipped thanks to measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, but that’s not the case this year, B.C. Children’s Hospital pediatrician Dr. Claire Seaton said.

“We expect to see these infections around this time of year, what’s a bit different this time around is things like RSV and parainfluenza are higher than expected and earlier than expected.”

The influx in respiratory illnesses has translated to increased wait times for emergent care. Seaton said it’s important for families to know when to bring their children to the hospital for treatment. If children are having difficulty breathing, persistent fever that lasts more than four days, turn pale or blue, or experience excessive vomiting, those are good signs to take them to emergency.

When it comes to prevention, Seaton said the same public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID work for other respiratory illnesses — wearing well-fitting masks, regular hand-washing and staying home while sick will all go a long way to preventing illness. However, one of the best tools to prevent getting sick is getting the flu shot and keeping up to date with regular childhood immunizations.

“Make sure your child is up to date about all of their immunizations,” Seaton said. “Have they had their baby shots? Have they had their pre-school booster shots? Have they missed any of those doses? Because of COVID last year, a lot of people didn’t get appointments or were hesitant to go and see someone in a clinic.”

The provincial government recently announced that anyone over six months of age can get flu shots for free at pharmacies across B.C.

RELATED: ‘Never too late’: B.C. pharmacist urges families to catch up on missed childhood vaccines

RELATED: B.C. removes fees from influenza shot as part of COVID-19 effort


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