Toronto ER doctor says winter surge of respiratory illnesses has begun

Emergency departments are now seeing a surge in patients coming in sick with COVID, Flu and RSV. Shauna Hunt with the latest public health data and advice from ER doctors.

By Shauna Hunt and Meredith Bond

Toronto emergency room doctors say the winter surge of COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections is underway, with hospitals seeing a wave of visits across the GTA.

In the last week, nearly 250 Ontarians have been admitted to hospital, and Public Health Ontario (PHO) reports the COVID-19 wastewater signal is at its highest level in more than a year.

Toronto ER physician Dr. Kashif Pirzada took to social media this week to share he and his colleagues are doing far more resuscitations, crash intubations and seeing far more patients in cramped and packed emergency rooms.

“We are admitting adults again on the ward even younger people in their 30s and 40s,’ said Dr. Pirzada. “It means we have to do life-saving maneuvers so we have to put people on ventilators and we have to put people on machines to help them breathe …that’s very serious. That’s when [the] mortality rate is very high as well.”

“I had a healthy woman with no medical problems in her 40s, who was just fighting a cold for a few weeks and then developed severe pneumonia and had to end up in our ICU. So we saw that before COVID but now it’s much more common now.”

With the virus season revving up a little sooner than normal, these Toronto doctors say hospitals are not yet in crisis mode like they were last year when emergency departments were completely overwhelmed and children were sometimes waiting days for an ICU bed.

Dr. Pirzada said staffing levels are still not great.

“We’re just lucky that it’s not as overwhelming as last year but if it does get stressed and I’m worried about the holiday season, especially with the early inkling that we’re getting now that we won’t be able to handle it the way things are going. I’m really worried about what’s going to happen in the next month or so.”

When someone should be heading to an ER

“If you cross the line where you have a fever of more than five days, that makes us worried. If you have severe chest pain or trouble breathing, that’s a bad thing, you need to get checked out,” said Dr. Pirzada.

“[If] you are not eating or drinking anything, that’s also a bad sign, if you are so tired you can’t get up and do anything also a bad sign, especially in a kid, that’s also a sign to get checked.”

Doctors say now is the time to protect yourself, and if you’re sick, stay home and wear a mask.

“I went into a packed subway car the other day and I wear a mask in there because I was face to face with people. I think use your common sense like you don’t want to get more sick than you need to be. So in super crowded areas, I think it’s a good idea to wear [masks]. They’re annoying, they’re inconvenient, but I think they might save you a lot of grief this holiday season.”

Dr. Pirzada adds getting a COVID-19 booster would also help. The advice comes as just 24 per cent of the population has completed a primary COVID-19 vaccine series and two or more booster doses.

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