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Saskatoon children's hospital grapples with 'explosion' of respiratory illnesses

A prolonged “surge” of children going to hospital for a variety of respiratory illnesses is keeping Saskatchewan pediatricians on high alert.

Dr. Mahli Brindamour is a pediatrician at Saskatoon’s Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital (JPCH).

She says what the hospital is seeing now is not only far more children seeking treatment compared to the past two years, but even greater than prior to COVID-19’s arrival in Saskatchewan.

“We actually had a very unusual summer with lots of respiratory illnesses, lots of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and influenza that we don't typically see over the summer,” Brindamour said.

“Now we're seeing I would say an explosion of respiratory illnesses, both in the hospital and outpatient clinics.”

Brindamour couldn’t pin down one reason for the spike or why respiratory illnesses arrived a few months early compared to the historical flu and cold season.

She said a combination of a lingering pandemic, eased restrictions and wide-open interactions are leading to more children going to hospitals.

“Now all these children go back in school or in contact with more children, so I think that partly explains the progression and the increase in what we're seeing currently.”

“It’s still really busy,” Dr. Ayisha Kurji, a general pediatrician said after the hospital remained full over July and August.

Saskatoon Public Schools said it’s noticed “a slight increase” in absences due to illness compared to 2019 when the school division last operated without any restrictions.

“It's busy and people are tired,” Brindamour said. “One of the most difficult parts is that we don't have enough places in the hospital for all of those sick children.”

In a recent email to CTV News, the Saskatchewan Health Authority said it is closely following the increasing hospital visits.

“The viral season is very much on our provincial radar,” the statement read.

“Respiratory illness continues to impact services at sites across the province. Viruses other than COVID-19 can lead to high numbers of children seeking care. Saskatoon has seen an increasing number of children with respiratory issues, and a significant increase in overall visits compared to this time last year.”

Adults may not be faring much better during the unusually early summer cold season.

Social media posts from ER doctors in Saskatoon claim more people are showing up to emergency rooms than staff can handle.


Trauma physician Brent Thoma took to Twitter to show Saskatoon’s ER occupancy picture Tuesday morning. By 11 a.m., 72 beds were filled by admitted patients with six more people consulted.

“That's significantly more than all of the beds in our two 24/7 adult ERs (Royal University Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital),” Thoma said on Twitter.

A closer look at the numbers reveals the overcapacity issue facing ERs. Of the 35 available hospital beds in Royal University Hospital’s ER, 41 people were using its services with another four consulted. That means there were 10 fewer beds than people needing them, according to Thoma.

With the typical flu and cold season still on the horizon, what does this mean for the rest of fall and winter? That’s the question keeping Brindamour, Kurji and other healthcare workers on high alert.

“We're just gonna see this kind of constant level? Are we going to see that surge go up? We don’t know,” Kurji said.

On top of capacity issues and an increase in respiratory illnesses, there is still a noticeable children’s Tylenol shortage, sending even more people to hospitals and clinics.

“I was looking for Tylenol for my own children and couldn't find any, and the hospital is starting to run out of Tylenol,” Brindamour said. “When the hospital is running out, it means that there's really a problem.”

Kurji and Brindamour said capacity issues should never keep you away from a hospital. Staff are always there to help anyone who needs it.

To keep safe, they advised mitigating the spread of respiratory illnesses with all of the usual methods practiced throughout the pandemic.

Staying home when sick, washing hands, physical distancing, and use of masks will help reduce the spread of all viruses. They also encourage everyone to get their annual flu shot when they become available along with their COVID booster. Top Stories

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