RSV, flu surge prompts action in Chatham-Kent

A sick child lays on a couch. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / dragon_fang

Two family doctors in Chatham-Kent are offering advice to keep children with respiratory viruses — including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza — out of the hospital.

A surge in respiratory viruses across Ontario, including RSV in children, is putting a strain on emergency and healthcare services.

Local pediatrician and Chief of Paediatrics at Chatham-Kent Health Alliance (CKHA) Dr. Wendy Edwards, and Dr. Dax Biondi, Family Physician and Chief of Emergency Medicine at CKHA are telling parents and guardians that hydration is key to keeping children with RSV out of the hospital, but if the child is dehydrated and not eating or drinking or urinating and is struggling to breathe, then it’s best to take them to the hospital to get checked out.

The doctors also said that nasal saline drops and mists can help to get rid of mucus, adding that parents should talk to a pharmacist about dissolved adult acetaminophen or ibuprofen to treat children if there is a shortage of children’s cold and flu medications.

Edwards and Biondi noted that most respiratory viruses last between seven and 14 days and that cough or fever alone are not reasons to visit the emergency room (ER).

“We are facing a challenging situation with RSV, influenza, and COVID-19 infections all on the rise in our communities,” said Dr. Edwards.

Biondi said he’s seeing more and more cases of RSV coming through his doors and as a parent, he understands the concern and anxiety when children are sick.

“If they’re drinking well that’s the first check mark (to stay home). If the child responds to Tylenol (acetaminophen) and seems to be reasonably well while the Tylenol or the ibuprofen is working, that’s check box #2 for me,” Dr. Biondi said. “When you look at the child and the way they breathe, does it look abnormal, does it look fast, does it look shallow? Does it look like they’re using their shoulders to breathe, does it look like they’re struggling? And despite the cough, they don’t look like they’re struggling to breathe, then that’s check mark #3 that they can continue to safely ride that out at home.”

CKHA also said the two local hospitals are seeing more children coming to the emergency departments with respiratory viruses.

“Like many other jurisdictions across the province, CKHA is seeing an increase in young children presenting to the emergency department with respiratory viruses and other illnesses,” said CKHA Communications Director Fannie Vavoulis.

The doctors said most of the children that get RSV are 15 months and younger and can get it back to back, adding most children already have RSV by the time they reach two years of age and most people have it multiple times throughout their life. They also said RSV is spread through contact, so hand washing and sanitizing is the best way to stop the spread. Wearing a mask, they said, also helps prevent spreading the virus.

The doctors are also telling parents that vitamins C and D and eating foods with vitamins C and D can help prevent viruses from taking hold. Milk produces mucus and is not good for children who already have a build-up of mucus as a result of RSV, although breast milk is okay, according to Dr. Edwards. She said puffers can also keep airways open if the child has laboured breathing.

Dr. Biondi noted it’s also fine for parents and guardians to ask questions of their child’s doctor about prescriptions and what outcomes are expected.