Hospitals overwhelmed by influx of sick children being admitted

Photo by: Martha Dominguez

A series of viruses are sending children to hospitals across Canada in unprecedented numbers. Hospitals nationwide have been seeing a surge of children with respiratory illnesses being admitted. Medical experts believe that this change has to do with the removal of COVID-19 public health measures across Canada.

The preventative measures set in place due to the pandemic, including mask-wearing and social distancing, have left children’s immune systems underexposed to germs over the last two years. The sudden removal of these measures, along with kids’ weakened immune systems, has resulted in this spike in hospitalization.

One of the viruses causing the surge is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which causes infections of the lungs and respiratory systems, and could lead to severe infections in infants. RSV cases saw a dip in cases early in the pandemic, but are now spiking in cases across Canada.

In 2021, BC Children’s Hospital saw triple the average of RSV infections in infants and toddlers. So far, this year is looking even worse.

Cases of influenza have also seen another major upsurge, according to Stephen Freedman, a physician at Alberta Children’s Hospital in a statement to The Globe and Mail. “Right now, it looks like influenza is probably the predominant virus we’re seeing driving kids in hordes to the emergency department,” said Freedman.

As children suffer with respiratory problems, many hospitals across the country have been running over capacity. McMaster Children’s Hospital is just one example of this, having recently reported that it is operating at 140 per cent occupancy.

Another widespread problem is the shortage of fever-reducing, pain-killing medication such as Advil and Tylenol in stores and pharmacies. Many parents have used social media to report their struggles in locating acetaminophen and ibuprofen products.

This shortage has led to one Saskatchewan pharmacy even beginning the process of only supplying these medications on a prescription basis.

As the number of children in hospitals with respiratory illnesses grows, many healthcare workers fear a rise in influenza and COVID-19 cases during the upcoming winter months. 

Many patients with less severe cases have already spent hours in the ER waiting up to 12 hours to see a doctor due to the influx of illness. Many of these patients need to wait for hospital beds to empty, as none are available when they arrive.

Many healthcare professionals are asking for a return to pandemic-level public health measures to assist hospitals and workers during this time of crisis. As exhaustion plagues the healthcare system, some workers in the industry have chosen to leave the profession entirely.

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