Three times the usual number of children are coming to emergency rooms in Ontario with respiratory illnesses. Here’s why | Tech US News

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Respiratory illnesses among children are running rampant, causing hospital visits and admissions to be much higher than usual for this time of year, new data from hospitals across Ontario shows.

Similar increases are being reported in hospitals across Canada. While no other province publishes as much data on respiratory illnesses, experts say Ontario’s data helps paint a clearer picture of the extent of the problem across the country.

The number of children ages five to 17 who came to hospital emergency rooms for breathing problems in the past week was more than three times the seasonal average, according to Ontario’s Acute Care Enhanced Surveillance (ACES). database.

For children up to four years old, daily emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses were more than double the normal rate during the same period, ACES showed on Wednesday.

Combining the two age groups, that means about 2,160 children visited emergency rooms each day for respiratory illnesses in the province last week, at a time of year when the number has historically averaged around 800.


The trend is happening at comparable rates in all regions of Ontario, and in some cases is putting hospitals under such pressure that they’ve had to cancel surgeries or divert patients.

Medical experts link the increase in morbidity among children to the abolition of preventive public health measures, such as wearing masks, which have been in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Immunity is not where it used to be”

Without social distancing and protective masks, children are exposed to more germs. And because of public health measures, these microbes are ones that children’s immune systems have had little exposure to recently, such as rhinovirus, enterovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

This means that the viruses that usually cause colds in children are instead driven by the autumn wave emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

“Part of the complexity right now is that because of the changes in our public health mandates, there’s just a lot more disease spreading,” said Dr. Charmaine van Schaik, pediatrician and chief of staff at Southlake Regional Health Center in Newmarket, Ont.

“At the same time, we’ve come through two years of a relatively protected environment for young children, so their immunity is not quite where it was.”

Another factor cited by some doctors: the lower-than-usual availability of acetaminophen and ibuprofen for children. The occasional shortages of Tylenol and Advil for children means more parents are unable to control their children’s fevers at home, resulting in more trips to the emergency room.

Wearing masks and other public health measures against COVID-19 have helped protect children from respiratory illnesses during the past two cold and flu seasons. Now children are exposed to viruses with which their immune systems have little experience. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Admissions put pressure on hospitals

dr. David Carr, an emergency physician who works in emergency rooms in downtown Toronto and the suburbs of Vaughan, Ont. and Richmond Hill, Ont., says it sees and accepts a disproportionate number of children.

“It’s something I’m not used to,” Carr said.

“Pediatric patients rarely require admission, at least compared to our adult patients,” he said. “Usually you see the kid, he’s got an ear infection or a sore throat, he’s going home.”

ACES database confirm that hospitals across Ontario are admitting an unusually high number of children with respiratory illnesses: 2.5 times the pre-pandemic average for this time of year.

dr. Joe Wiley, chief of pediatrics at Oak Valley Health in Markham, Ont., describes the number of children coming to the hospital with respiratory illnesses as unprecedented.

“It’s much higher volumes and much earlier in the typical cough and cold season than I’ve ever experienced,” Wiley said in an interview at Markham Stouffville Hospital.

dr. Joe Wiley is chief of pediatrics at Oak Valley Health, which includes Markham Stouffville Hospital in Markham, Ont. (Dean Gariepy/CBC)

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in admissions,” Wiley said. “We’re under pressure here, and I know from talking to colleagues at other hospitals that they’re experiencing similar pressures.”

The rise in sick children is affecting the operations of Ontario’s hospitals.

  • McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton is preparing to move teenagers to adult hospitals and reduce scheduled surgeries because of “extreme challenges” in the emergency department, intensive care units and inpatient wards, according to a letter from hospital management last Friday.

  • University Health Network of Toronto last Thursday, staff warned that Toronto General Hospital’s emergency department was full and asked doctors to refer patients to other emergency rooms and specialty clinics.

  • CHEO, Children’s Hospital of Ottawabegan canceling some scheduled surgeries and redeploying staff last week amid what its CEO described as “unprecedented high demand” in its emergency room.

The emergency room is already stretched out

The wave of illnesses among children this fall comes at a time when hospitals have been grappling with staffing challenges for months. Meanwhile, many in the system expect flu and COVID-19 cases to rise in the coming weeks as colder weather keeps people indoors, making it easier for infectious diseases to spread.

SEE | Respiratory diseases in children are on the rise:

New figures reveal scale of emergency care at children’s hospitals

Children’s hospitals in parts of Canada are still experiencing a dramatic increase in emergency room visits and admissions due to a large increase in respiratory illnesses among children. In Ontario, children ages 5 to 17 are going to emergency rooms with respiratory problems at more than three times the seasonal average.

Emergency departments have been under constant pressure for months, with large numbers of admitted patients stuck in emergency rooms because there are no beds available for them in hospital wards, said Anthony Dale, executive director of the Ontario Hospital Association.

This is a translation into longer than usual waiting times in the emergency room for people whose cases are less urgent and lack of ambulances paramedics wait for hours to explain their patients.

“It’s still a very, very difficult and constantly challenging situation in Ontario hospitals,” Dale said in an interview.

In other provinces:

  • Montreal Children’s Hospital had more than double the number of patients than beds occupying the emergency room Wednesday morning, according to publicly released wait time data. The hospital is seeing “an unprecedented number of children coming to the emergency department and a greater number of sicker children, many with respiratory illnesses,” its medical director, Dr. Laurie Plotnick.

  • The total number of emergency room visits at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver is 20 per cent higher than normal for this time of year, a spokesman for the provincial health service said in an email.

  • Atlantic Canada’s premier children’s hospital, IWK Medical Center in Halifax, is seeing a sharp increase in the number of children coming to the emergency room and being admitted for respiratory infections, according to its chief of pediatrics. told CBC Nova Scotia on Monday.

  • Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg is see the tip in the number of children admitted to hospital for breathing problems

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