Flu season may have peaked, Ontario’s top doctor says

Flu season may have peaked, Ontario’s top doctor says

Respiratory illnesses have swept children’s hospitals across the province in the past two months, with the flu making up the majority of recent admissions to many of the country’s children’s hospitals.

Flu season may have peaked in Ontario, and that should ease some pressure on children’s hospitals in the near future, the province’s chief medical officer said Thursday, December 15.

The Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore believes the flu season has peaked in the last few days. The number of people testing positive for influenza fell last week, and test positivity also fell, he said.

“That in turn gives me some hope that we are in a flexible moment where we may be in decline and seeing a lower burden of disease from influenza in our communities,” Moore told The Canadian Press.

Respiratory illnesses have swept children’s hospitals across the province in the past two months, with the flu making up the majority of recent admissions to many of the country’s children’s hospitals.

Major children’s hospitals have canceled surgeries to deploy staff to intensive care units and emergency rooms.

“There is some good news, and I know that our health care system is working to serve Ontario residents every day, but from my perspective, when I look at population-level data in Ontario, some of the trends are in a better direction direction and I think the acute care sector may be under less pressure in the coming days,” Moore said.

Toronto’s Hospital for Sick has said it is preparing for a second wave of respiratory illnesses that could last through March and that its internal testing has shown a stubborn strain of influenza A on a clear upsurge. The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) has warned that the large number of influenza patients it treats could continue to rise in the coming weeks.

Data released Thursday shows there are 117 children in intensive care units across the province, with 131 beds available. Two days ago, 125 children were in intensive care, more than ever before.

Moore said there has also been a slight drop in circulating respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, although he warned the virus will linger for months and continue to put pressure on children’s hospitals.

“However, RSV continues to be a threat and we are not seeing any reduction at the population or test level at this time and that is one of my biggest concerns for me,” he said.

He said that on Dec. 1 they had peaked at about 200 hospital admissions for children ages 0 to 4 across Ontario. That dropped to about 170 admissions.

“We have to be really, really protective of our kids during the holidays,” Moore said.

Provincial data shows emergency room visits for children with respiratory illnesses have fallen sharply across the province.

On Wednesday, a seven-day average of 763 children ages 0 to 4 went to the emergency department for a respiratory condition, compared with the historical average of 691 over a week.

That average peaked on Nov. 11 of 1,264 children attending an emergency room (ER) compared to the historical seven-day average of 505 children attending the emergency room, data from Acute Care Enhanced Surveillance, a real-time Ontario company -wide system that monitors hospital registration records.

Children ages 5 to 17 peaked on November 8 with a seven-day average of 1,146 ER visits for respiratory illness, four times the historical average.

This moving average has dropped to 495 ER visits as of Tuesday, December 13, compared to the historical average of 357 visits over the same period.

“There has been a steady decrease in the number of children being hospitalized which I see daily and I only hope this continues to take the pressure off families and children and our healthcare system,” Moore said.

He said he expects the flu to fall again sharply if it behaves as it has in Australia and the southern hemisphere during their winters.

dr Fahad Razak, an internist at St. Michael’s Hospital and a professor at the University of Toronto, said he was cautious about explaining the peak of the flu.

“The severity of the rise in flu cases this year has far exceeded what we normally see,” he said.

“And there’s an unpredictable element because we also don’t have clear reports on vaccination rates in susceptible adults or children.”

He said it’s also even harder to predict given that there are three main viruses circulating, including COVID-19, and that the upcoming holiday season could see a surge as children and the elderly – both of whom are at higher risk of respiratory diseases – have more contact to have.

“They have a perfect environment for an increased level of spread to occur over the next week or two,” Razak said.

He also said it wouldn’t take much to overwhelm children’s hospitals again.

“Even a small further increase puts further stress on the system, which is already overloaded,” Razak said.

COVID hospitalizations have been declining since peaking in October

COVID-19 has also been steadily declining since its peak in late October.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 peaked in October with about 2,000 patients, he said. Now about 1,100 to 1,200 people have been hospitalized with the disease in the past few days, Moore said.

As of October 23, 165 adults with COVID-19 were in intensive care units. Today there are 105 in intensive care units, provincial data shows.

“I really have to thank Ontario for coming forward to get vaccinated,” he said, nothing that they’ve only met 50 percent of those over 70 who got their bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.

But he said only one in five adults in the province had received their bivalent booster shot.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said.

You usually see around 30,000 Ontarians a day getting their shots, but now it’s at 18,000 a day.

“Please gift yourself a vaccine to protect your loved ones this winter season,” Moore said.

Moore said the province has distributed 5.2 million flu shots and has 900,000 shots in reserve. He doesn’t know how many flu shots have been administered because the data recording system is outdated. He said they plan to fix the system over the next year.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 15, 2022.

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