RSV rates climbing in Quebec and U.S. – should Albertans be worried?

Hospitals in the US are filling up with children sick with RSV, a common virus that affects lungs and breathing passageways – is Alberta, with its overwhelmed ERs and hospitals at risk of the same situation? Sarah Chew finds out.

By Sarah Chew and The Canadian Press

If you’re a parent you’re probably familiar with listening to your baby’s for sounds of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), a common virus that causes cold-like symptoms.

Cases are surging in Quebec and the United States, causing an influx of sick kids in hospitals. But do Albertans have to worry this fall?

Joan Robinson, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, says six children have been admitted in the last 10 days with RSV.

But Robinson says this isn’t anywhere close to the numbers in the U.S., where one children’s medical centre is considering building a field hospital for all their patients.

“I don’t think that the whole number of severe cases that we see over the next 12 months is likely to be markedly higher than what we normally see,” said Robinson. “If that was going to happen, it would have happened last winter probably, not this winter. But time will tell.”

While an RSV vaccine is in the works, Robinson says the best way to keep babies and seniors safe is to keep them away from people who are sick.


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“One cannot really prevent getting RSV very easily, but things to worry about are if you are short of breath or if you’ve got really quite pronounced wheezing, then you certainly should be seen by a clinician and it should be sorted out whether you need oxygen, whether you need hospital admission,” said Robinson.

“They maybe should not be going to social gatherings where there’s anyone who has a cold. I think that hand washing is a good idea, wearing a mask probably does prevent spread to some degree.”

In an email, AHS tells CityNews it hasn’t seen any significant spike in RSV patients yet – the number is similar to previous seasons and is what officials would expect at this time of year.

RSV cases jump in Quebec

According to The Canadian Press, RSV cases have jumped in Quebec, pushing the positivity rate to 15 per cent in Montreal and Quebec City.

Weekly provincial surveillance data show positivity rates of the childhood illness hover just over 13 per cent across Quebec, with slightly higher rates in the two cities and wide variation among smaller communities.

Quebec’s positivity rate is several times higher than the recent federal positivity rate of 3.5 per cent, although that data is a week behind and covers the week ending Oct. 15.

The national figures show a positivity rate of two per cent in Ontario and 3.4 in Atlantic Canada. The lowest rates were 1.4 per cent in British Columbia, one per cent on the Prairies and two per cent in the Territories.

Ottawa pediatric hospital CHEO said for the week ending Oct. 15, out of 298 RSV tests 30 were positive – about 10 per cent.

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

Robinson says the next four to five months is typically RSV season, so keep an eye on your babies and elderly family members over the age of 80 who could be susceptible to pneumonia from RSV.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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