Rise in respiratory illnesses prompts further caution this holiday season: family doctor

As families set out to enjoy a holiday season free of COVID-19 restrictions in Canada, one doctor suggests people should still take protective measures to combat the rise of respiratory illnesses leaving medical teams on high alert.

Dr. Allan Grill, chief of family medicine at Oak Valley Health’s Markham Stouffville Hospital, believes that the holidays are a “wonderful time for people to get together” but says certain considerations should be made while determining the safety of larger gatherings.

“Particularly in Canada, we saw a lot of respiratory illnesses [in recent months]. It’s had a strain on our health-care system. It’s made parents very anxious and concerned. And it’s made health-care providers have to work a lot harder,” he told CTV News Channel on Sunday.

According to data released by the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 700 children were hospitalized by the end of November with H3N2, a strain of the flu that typically takes a toll on older adults. Previous pandemic restrictions have lessened the amount of flu-related hospitalizations, but the severity of recent cases has concerned medical teams.

Recently, two children in Montreal died due complications with Strep A infection, and Montreal’s public health department announced a rise in streptococcal infections among young children since mid-November.

“The thing is, it’s still a very rare condition when it gets invasive and causes those severe complications,” Dr. Grill said, referring to Step A infection. “There’s about five cases per about 100 thousand people. So it’s still pretty rare. But it’s obviously [something] we want parents to look out for.”

He added that signs to look out for would be really high fevers, lethargy to the point in which a child can’t be roused, and difficulty breathing where they can’t eat or drink.

“These are emergency situations where we need to get to the children quickly and examine them.”

Grill extended other precautions to those hoping to celebrate this holiday season with loved ones – with threats such as COVID-19 still a notable possibility.

“You shouldn’t go to somebody’s home if you’re feeling unwell. Stay home if you’re sick. There are still [antigen] kits that [allow you to] test yourself and your families,” he explained.

“Washing your hands is important. If you’re having a party make sure there’s hand sanitizer around. Remind people to wash their hands before you sit down and eat and drink together.”

Grill also suggested encouraging people to wear a mask if they would prefer to, and spacing people out in rooms instead of packing them in a close area.

He added other pre-emptive measures that are proven to mitigate the spread of infections.

“Again, it’s not too late to get your flu shot… And it’s not too late to get caught up with you COVID-19 vaccine.”

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