Surging RSV rates in parts of Quebec drive nationwide cases and strain hospital staff

The surge in respiratory syncytial virus cases in Quebec has pushed the positivity rate to 15% in Montreal and Quebec City.

Weekly provincial surveillance data shows that childhood illness positivity rates hover around 14% province-wide, with slightly higher rates in the two cities and wide variation between smaller communities.

That’s several times the most recent federal positivity rate of 3.5%, though that data is a week behind and covers the week ending Oct. 15.

The head of the pediatric emergency department at Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal says his emergency rooms « are completely overcrowded with patients » with respiratory viruses, largely caused by RSV.

Dr Antonio D’Angelo says those numbers aren’t usually seen until later in the fall and winter, but an equally early RSV season last year changed viral patterns.

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He says RSV appears to be affecting more than babies and toddlers this year to include three- and four-year-olds who first contract the virus because they had been protected by now-lifted pandemic precautions.

“There’s so much more — a bigger surge with sicker patients, so more hospitalizations and our hospitals are just full to the brim,” D’Angelo said Tuesday.

« In the emergency rooms, well, they’re just everywhere – they’re in our respiratory unit in the emergency room, but they’re also in some kind of makeshift hallway for a temporary unit there. And then we had to open another hallway with patients with respiratory illnesses who needed treatment.

“And it’s very, very unusual. In fact, we’ve never had it so bad.

D’Angelo said he expects similar rates to appear in other Canadian centers, while acknowledging that other hospitals are already seeing increasing numbers of respiratory patients, as well as resources and staff put in place. strained.

National figures show a positivity rate of 2% in Ontario and 3.4 in Atlantic Canada. The lowest rates were 1.4% in British Columbia, 1% in the Prairies and 2% in the Territories.

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The Ottawa Children’s Hospital, CHEO, said for the week ending Oct. 15, of 298 RSV tests, 30 were positive _ about 10%.

A CHEO spokesperson said 12 patients were hospitalized with RSV last month – the same record number as last year and far higher than the pre-pandemic average of around one to two hospitalizations for September.

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D’Angelo said RSV generally spreads by community and does not usually emerge across the country at the same time.

“It often happens where there will be a kind of epicenter where everything kind of starts happening and then it kind of spreads,” he said.

Although only a small percentage of RSV cases result in hospitalization, the disease is common in children. By the age of two, 90% of children will have contracted an RSV infection, explains Dr. Jesse Papenburg, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre.

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However, some infants are at higher risk of severe disease and that’s when having a predictable virus season is important, he said.

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RSV season typically runs from November to March, but Quebec experts noticed a 5% positivity rate in August, Papenburg said.

He said that prompted the province to move a prevention campaign for high-risk babies to mid-September, instead of the usual November.

A monoclonal antibody injected monthly into very high-risk infants can halve their risk of hospitalization, he said. These may be children under the age of one who were born very prematurely or who have congenital heart disease or chronic lung disease.

with files from Cassandra Szklarski in Toronto

&copy 2022 The Canadian Press


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