Saskatchewan clinics are packed with sick kids who are once again catching respiratory viruses that virtually did not exist for the last two years due to pandemic behaviours, according to a Saskatoon family physician.
Dr. Adam Ogieglo is seeing “crazy high volumes of sick kids” at the clinic where he works.
The majority of his patients are children under the age of 15 with respiratory viruses such as influenza, RSV and rhinovirus. He said he’s also seen some come in with strep throat, ear infections and pneumonia in recent days.
“The concern is these non-COVID illnesses and the effect that it’s having on our kids,” he said.
Biweekly data from the Saskatchewan government’s Community Respiratory Illness Surveillance Program (CRISP) confirms Ogieglo’s experience.
Influenza cases have nearly tripled to 192 confirmed cases since the end of October, according to the CRISP report from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5. The majority, or 61 per cent, of the cases are in people aged 19 or younger.
“We were always predicting that in the fall we will see all these viruses transmit,” said chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.
Saskatchewan has officially entered the cold and flu season, Shahab said, with a high number of cases starting in the north and moving down to the south.
While influenza cases are increasing, rhinovirus, also known as the common cold, is still the most common respiratory virus detected in kids at the moment, according to CRISP data.
Anecdotally, the Regina Catholic School Division said it is noticing more people calling in absent.
Prairie Valley School Division is seeing similar issues with attendance. Records show the division averaged 88 per cent attendance in September and October, which is down slightly from previous years.
However, both school divisions noted that absences can occur for a number of reasons other than illness, such as weather and family trips.
The Regina Public School Division does not keep division-wide student attendance records. However, officials are “not seeing any out-of-the ordinary absence numbers due to sickness either among students or staff,” according to a division spokesperson.
“We do ask school families to keep their kids home if they have any signs of a cold or illness and that they report the absence to the school.”
Similar to COVID-19, Shahab said there are a number of ways to keep yourself and others healthy during the fall, including influenza vaccines, masks and hand washing.
“Staying home if you’re sick is really important because RSV and influenza transmit more when you’re ill. They don’t really transmit when you’re asymptomatic,” Shahab said.
There will likely be reduced access to care for patients in clinics and emergency rooms due to the spike in respiratory viruses, according to Dr. Ogieglo.
He is already seeing pressures at his urgent care clinic in Saskatoon with 40 to 50 patients waiting at any given time, adding a three-hour wait time has become the standard.
He is worried the long wait could deter patients with minor symptoms to go unchecked, which is why he said it is important to stick to pandemic behaviours to help alleviate pressures and reduce wait times.
“If we’re all getting sick at the same time, not all of us are going to get a doctor,” he said.
“It would be nice to slow this down a bit, spread it out and flatten the curve. We learned all about that with COVID. We could easily do that with these other viruses.”