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Health officials scrambling as respiratory virus circulates among young children in Montreal

·2 min read
Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said it is important to wear a mask around babies and small children. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said it is important to wear a mask around babies and small children. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A respiratory virus, unrelated to COVID-19, is circulating among children in Montreal and officials are worried about overcrowding in pediatric emergency rooms.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's public health director, said respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, is becoming a problem and the sanitary methods we've been using to prevent the spread of COVID, like handwashing and masks, could help.

"That's why we're asking, especially in situations where there is contact with babies and small children, for people to wear masks," he said.

Wheezing, lethargy, persistent cough, or difficulty breathing are all signs that medical treatment is needed. The least severe form leads to the sniffles, but it can also infect the small airways in the lungs and may be fatal in babies and young children.

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, said RSV is making a comeback nationwide.

"Certainly, this is one where parents do need to be on the watch," he said, as it can lead to hospitalization for young children.

Dr. Pascal Lavoie, a pediatrician and clinician scientist at the B.C. Children's Hospital Research Institute in Vancouver, said RSV is one of the most serious viruses for vulnerable infants.

At the same time, COVID-19's delta variant is also spreading fast among children in the U.S. and straining the capacity of pediatric hospitals in areas with low vaccination rates.

Vaccinating children against COVID-19 may still begin as early as next month among 5- to 11-year-olds.

"We should be able to start a vaccination at the end of October, beginning of November," Arruda said. "But we are awaiting approval."

Non-emergency phone number for parents

Meanwhile, Montreal's two main pediatric hospitals have launched an initiative aimed at limiting the number of patients showing up at pediatric emergency rooms.

The hospitals set up a phone line for parents to call to get appointments for their sick children rather than heading to the emergency room unnecessarily. The new number is: 514-890-6111.

"It will allow us to treat children who must be seen quickly by a physician but do not need to rush to the emergency department," says Dr. Robert Barnes of the Montreal Children's Hospital in a statement Tuesday.

The initiative was launched by the Children's and Sainte-Justine hospitals. The goal is to redirect patients between the ages of 0 and 16 to a quick appointment without having to wait for hours in one of the two hospitals' emergency rooms.

Barnes says these emergency rooms are designed to care for critical patients.

Pediatric patients who are not seriously ill should instead be heading to the approximately 80 family medicine groups or 350 medical clinics on the island instead, the statement says.

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