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'It’s continual': IWK sees long wait times as cold, flu, RSV cases rise in the Maritimes

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The Maritimes’ children’s hospital is seeing long wait times in its emergency department as cold, flu and RSV cases rise in the region.

Dr. Jeannette Comeau, an infectious disease specialist at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, says the hospital’s waiting room as been “pretty busy” these days.

Comeau and her colleagues say it’s the busiest the department has ever been.

“It’s continual. Over the past, I’d say three to four weeks, we’ve continued to have high, high numbers of children coming to seek care,” Comeau told CTV Atlantic’s Todd Battis during an interview Tuesday night.

Comeau says the wave of viruses appears to be the cause.

“We’re having children coming in with many days of fever. Children who are coming in with coughs and colds, difficulty breathing. The majority of what’s bringing children into the emergency department these days is respiratory in nature.”

She says her colleagues are also seeing young patients that don’t necessarily need to come to the emergency department, adding to the long wait times.

“So something like, if you’re child has a fever for less than five days, and it can be well controlled with some Advil or Tylenol, then you could wait that out and not necessarily come in quite as quickly as you might have usually.”

Comeau says, if your child is coughing, but isn’t having difficulty breathing, they may not need to come to the ER.

“Of course if you’re worried, you come in and the parents’ intuition is important, but that can avoid that wait at least.”

While RSV predominately affects young children under the age of two, Comeau says more toddlers are being affected this year, as well as adults over the age of 65.

“We can see sometimes in the older adult population that they can also get quite sick with RSV.”

A report has indicated that most children’s hospitals in Canada are overcrowded. The Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John’s also recently had to cancel some surgeries.

Comeau says it is a possibility at the IWK as well.

“We have a group now administratively within the hospital who’s looking each day at the numbers of children that are admitted, the numbers than came in overnight and the planned surgeries for the day. And so we’re kind of doing a day-by-day in terms of understanding what the pressures would be and then decisions are made by the group that involves the surgical team and the medical teams.”

While some people think Nova Scotia should return to COVID-19 restrictions to help with hospital overcrowding, Comeau doesn’t think it’s necessary.

“I think the important thing is what we’ve learned from the pandemic. What measures we’ve learned have worked really effectively from the pandemic. And each individual certainly still has the ability to do those measures.”

Comeau does recommend people wash their hands well, stay home while sick, get their flu shot and wear a mask.

“I don’t think we need the government or public health to tell us that you have to wear a mask necessarily, but everybody should be able to see that this is an effective measure. And I would certainly encourage people, especially if they’re mildly unwell and have to go out, to wear a mask.”

Despite the IWK being busy, Comeau says the hospital is hopeful that it will be able to give staff time off over the holidays.

“It’s been a long almost three years for everybody, hospital staff included, so certainly (we) would like to be able to see that. But we have a group here in the hospital looking at what the numbers are, looking at what the surge looks like, what the requirements are for care.”

She also says Nova Scotia is about three to four weeks into the height of the RSV and flu season and expects it to go on for “a few more weeks.”

“That’s sort of our usual peak. I think the caveat is that this season is not looking like any other. So we’re hopeful, optimistic, but we’ll have to see how things unfold over the coming weeks.”

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