As patient numbers spike at the Children’s Hospital in Winnipeg, a medical officer for Southern Health-Santé Sud offers some information on respiratory viruses and ways to better protect those who are most susceptible.
In recent weeks, HSC Children’s has seen an increase in the number of cases of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) bronchiolitis – an infection of the small airways in the lungs.
“RSV is not new,” says Dr. Mahmoud Khodaveisi. “It can occur throughout the year, but it is more common during the fall and winter months.”
While respiratory infections can occur in people of all ages, there is an increased risk for children under the age of two years. Babies under three months as well as premature infants are at an even higher risk of infection.
For parents of children who are at high risk of developing RSV, Dr. Khodaveisi says it can be beneficial to reduce close contact with anyone who is sick, avoid face touching, and increase handwashing. He also suggests getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19.
Respiratory viruses commonly come with symptoms that impact breathing, says Dr. Khodaveisi, noting that it is important to seek medical attention anytime a child has difficulty breathing or is frequently coughing. And for babies who are three months old or younger, a fever warrants medical attention.
Most RSV infections can go away on their own, he adds. It might take a week or two for the infection to clear up.
Health Sciences Centre (HSC) Winnipeg sent out a string of tweets on Tuesday afternoon, alerting the public to a surge in patient volumes, indicating an increase in ER visits by 24 percent from October, and up by 46 percent when compared to the same period last year.
As to the reason for this increase in RSV cases, Dr. Khodaveisi says we experienced a significant decrease during the past couple of years while public health orders were in place. Now that restrictions have lifted, he says fewer people are wearing masks and hand hygiene is not what it had been, and this opens the door for viruses to spread more easily.
Dr. Khodaveisi notes that RSV can only be diagnosed in hospital and encourages people to reach out to their primary care physician or to public health for more information on respiratory viruses.
He adds Health Links is also a good resource for the public to access by calling 1-888-315-9257.