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Early Rise in Pediatric Respiratory Illnesses: A Threat to Healthcare Systems in Eastern Ontario

Health officials in Eastern Ontario are currently grappling with a mounting number of young children and infants hospitalized due to respiratory illnesses. In what has been dubbed as an early flu season, CHEO’s Emergency Room has seen a surge in influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases, including pneumonia. Dr. Gina Neto, the medical director of the emergency room, states that on a daily basis there are substantial numbers of patients waiting for in-patient beds as the hospital fills to capacity.

However, Dr. Neto also notes that the degree of paediatric respiratory illness that they are encountering this year is not reaching the unprecedented levels recorded across the province in the previous year. Ottawa Public Health (OPH) updates report a steady or increasing rate in most COVID-19-related cases, while also noting a high RSV activity. Given these challenges, health-care institutions in the city are considered high-risk for respiratory illnesses, a status they have held since September, and are expected to sustain until March or even beyond.

In regards to this rising health concern, Dr. Gerald Evans, Director of Infection Prevention and Control at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre, corroborates that mostly young children are being hospitalized with RSV in the region. This has been a ballooning issue for an ongoing four-week stretch. Dr. Evans believes that the region is now at the peak of this wave of respiratory illnesses, which may sustain for some more weeks before starting to recede.

Echoing these observations, Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, has expressed concern about the potential for the health system to be overwhelmed similar to last year. He points out that the dominant respiratory illness remains unclear, but COVID-19 currently shows the highest test positivity rates. He implores everyone, regardless of perceived vulnerability to illness, to get vaccinated as it contributes to the overall immunity of the population, thus curtailing the spread of these illnesses.


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