Saskatchewan is seeing a sharp rise in emergency room visits among children aged one to four years with respiratory-like illnesses.
Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Saqib Shehab, said it was likely COVID-19, due to the low transmission of influenza in the province and no vaccines against the virus have yet been approved for children under the age of five.
“Any display of a COVID-like illness in emergency rooms — where you may not have been screened in every case — is likely COVID-19,” Shehab said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.
The latest data from the Ministry of Health, dated February 19, showed that preschool children visit emergency rooms at a weekly rate of 110 patients per 1,000. This was higher than the average rate – 87.5 patients per 1,000 visits – in the previous six weeks for the same age group. .
Children aged one to four years were approximately three times more likely to visit the emergency room than all age groups combined.
Saskatchewan no longer releases daily COVID-19 data, but releases a weekly Epidemiology Report that includes COVID-like illnesses in emergency rooms.
It’s a way to track the amount of transmission in the community, Shehab said, since Saskatchewan is no longer doing extensive testing and is limiting PCR lab testing to people with specific risk factors.
“It’s a good idea of the prevalence of respiratory illnesses,” Shehab said. “It’s now moderate across the province.”
He added that any child under the age of five who has a fever and rapid breathing or is not eating properly should be taken to emergency care.
“This is still important.”
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Dr. Aisha Corgi, a pediatrician in Saskatoon, said the Omicron variant affects children’s airways and, in some cases, can cause diabetes or cause pancreatitis.
“Most of the kids (who get COVID-19) are still doing well, that’s right. But not all kids,” Corgi said. “Sometimes, previously healthy children still end up in the emergency room or come to the hospital to be admitted.”
She said children are showing up in hospitals with diarrhea, vomiting and croup — an upper airway infection that obstructs breathing and causes a characteristic barking cough.
The length of their stay varies. Some children come in to get oxygen to help with breathing, while some end up in intensive care.
Corgi recommended that parents take their children to the hospital if they are dehydrated or not urinating regularly, are breathing rapidly or have trouble breathing, especially if they are drowsy or fussy.
“Don’t think about it from the perspective of COVID or not…but look at the symptoms,” Corgi said.
“The important thing is that you know your child, so if you’re worried about your child, and your instincts are that you should leave, it’s always best to be safe and go get him checked.”
Saskatchewan said it will continue to monitor for COVID-like diseases throughout the spring and fall.
“We know that children under five have not yet been vaccinated, so we can’t give them the same protection we can ourselves and we can give older children,” Corgi said.
“It’s important to know what’s going on with them, and that’s something we probably need to make some different decisions to keep them protected.”
Saskatchewan lifted all public health orders on Monday, including a requirement to self-isolate if they tested positive for the virus.
Corgi said people can protect themselves and others at risk by continuing to wear a mask and full vaccinations, including a booster syringe.