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Ask the doctors: worried parents dial in to town hall

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Manitoba's chief public health officer tried to soothe parents’ fears about viruses that have driven children to the ER in record numbers, during a telephone town hall Tuesday evening.

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Manitoba’s chief public health officer tried to soothe parents’ fears about viruses that have driven children to the ER in record numbers, during a telephone town hall Tuesday evening.

“I know we’ve just come out of a couple of really rough years and into a real tough respiratory virus season, so (I’m) just reminding people there are a number of things we can do to protect ourselves,” Dr. Brent Roussin said during the event in which parents could ask him questions.

Dr. Elisabete Doyle, medical director and section head of pediatric emergency medicine at the Children’s Hospital joined the town hall.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin (above) and Dr. Elisabete Doyle, medical director and section head of pediatric emergency medicine at the Children’s Hospital, hosted a telephone town hall for parents on Tuesday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Their key messages during the hour-long event were that people should remain at home when sick, stay up to date with vaccinations, wear masks in public spaces and avoid trips to the hospital — except for in emergency situations.

The pair addressed questions submitted by listeners both virtually and by phone. Most people sought general information regarding child vaccination, and what symptoms warrant a trip to the emergency department.

Parents should only consider going to the ER if their child has compounding symptoms. Difficulty breathing, a lack of urination, excessive tiredness and vomiting are signs of concern, but fever alone can often be treated at home, Doyle said.

Typically, doctors may recommend child ibuprofen or Tylenol to assist in breaking a fever, but supply chain shortages have left many shelves bare. Instead, Doyle suggested parents calm a fever by keeping children cool, such as removing their clothing and using a fan.

“Fever is really not dangerous, and the height of the fever (temperature) does not indicate severity,” Doyle said, adding fevers often persist for days, even when medicine has been administered.

She warned parents against using cough syrup or adult medication on children and said the province is expecting a shipment of children’s Tylenol and ibuprofen in the near future.

The Children’s Hospital is currently seeing a large number of patients, two-thirds of whom do not require emergency treatment.

Even those admitted to hospital are often not very sick and only require “a little bit of oxygen for a couple of days,” she said.

As Roussin and Doyle spoke, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority wait times dashboard reported 39 patients were awaiting care at the Children’s Hospital, with the expected wait time around six hours.

Things were worse at St. Boniface Hospital’s emergency department, where 35 patients faced wait times that exceeded 11 hours.

Doyle expects emergency visits will continue to rise.

There are plans to increase ER staffing by offering more overtime and moving nurses from other areas of the hospital, she said.

In October, Doctors Manitoba surveyed its 4,000 physicians.

Ninety-six per cent of respondents said they were concerned hospitals would be unable to withstand the expected influx of viral infections over the fall and winter.

Their fears appear to be coming true, as respiratory viruses, including RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), COVID-19 and influenza surge across the province.

“Physicians are very concerned about the triple virus threat to Manitobans health and well-being,” Dr. Candace Bradshaw, president of Doctors Manitoba, said in a public statement. “An important way to help is by following research-backed medical advice.”

The statement included a series of recommendations matching what Roussin and Doyle addressed during the town hall.

Doctors Manitoba was pleased the province hosted the event.

“We are happy to see an opportunity for Manitobans to ask doctors questions about respiratory viruses. One important part of slowing the spread of these viruses is getting trustworthy information to Manitobans to help them make informed decisions,” Keir Johnson, communications director for Doctors Manitoba, wrote in an email statement.

tyler.searle@freepress.mb.ca

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