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Increased number of adults and babies being admitted to Winnipeg hospitals with respiratory virus and flu

As Winnipeg hospitals see a rise in pediatric and adult cases of respiratory activity, influenza, and other illnesses, Manitobans are reminded to take appropriate steps to protect themselves and their loved ones from colds and flus.

“Respiratory infections and the flu can be very serious,” said Dr. Perry Gray, Chief Medical Officer, Shared Health. “The flu is not just fevers, chills and pneumonia. Past flu seasons have resulted in the hospitalization of patients, some in intensive care on life-support, relying on equipment to help them breathe for days or weeks. This can happen to anyone, at any age however the flu vaccine can reduce this risk.”

Since Sept. 1, HSC Children’s has admitted 240 children and babies with lab-confirmed cases of respiratory infections and other influenza-like illnesses. Winnipeg hospitals are also beginning to see increased incidence of influenza and respiratory infections in adult patients.

“As families and friends gather over the holiday season there are a number of precautions that Manitobans should take to avoid sharing illnesses, particularly with those at increased risk, including young babies and people with chronic illnesses,” added Dr. Patricia Birk, medical director of Child Health, HSC Winnipeg.

HSC Winnipeg has initiated visitor restrictions in all pediatric units (including HSC Children’s Hospital and HSC Women’s Hospital) and St. Boniface Hospital has initiated visitor restrictions in its neonatal intensive care unit. All visitors must ensure proper hand hygiene (washing their hands both before and after visiting patients) and must be in good health (ie. not experiencing a fever or other cold-or flu-like symptoms). In addition, visitors to PICU and NICU must be five years of age or older and up to date on all immunizations.

Adult units at Winnipeg hospitals are not yet enforcing visitor restrictions however family and friends are reminded of the importance of hand-washing and ensuring they are in good health when they visit, particularly when visiting people with chronic illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes or asthma.

Across Manitoba, influenza activity is increasing with 95 laboratory-confirmed cases of Influenza B since September.  Symptoms of Influenza B include fever, chills, sore throat, coughing, muscle and body aches but can also be far more severe, requiring admission or intensive care.

“Manitobans can help protect themselves, their friends and family by getting the flu vaccine, which is safe and effective,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer.  “In order to help prevent influenza and its complications, it is recommended that all eligible Manitobans receive the flu shot each year.”

During last year’s flu season, 17 people with lab-confirmed cases of the flu died in Manitoba, while another 42 were admitted into intensive care units.  In total, there were 228 hospitalizations due to influenza during the 2018-19 season.  Comparatively, the 2017-18 season hit 10-year highs, with 46 deaths, 35 ICU admissions and 505 hospitalizations.

The seasonal flu vaccine remains available, for free, to all Manitobans aged six months and older. Approximately 19.9 per cent of Manitobans have received the flu vaccine so far this season. This number is growing steadily to match, or potentially exceed, the record number of doses administered during last year’s flu season (23.6 per cent).

Other tips for reducing the risk of influenza or respiratory infections include:

  • Wash your hands frequently;
  • Keep your hands away from your face;
  • Cough and sneeze into your arm or a tissue, not your hand;
  • If you get sick, stay home;
  • If you’re feeling unwell, avoid visiting or coming into contact with young babies or people with weakened immune systems

If parents and caregivers have questions about symptoms of respiratory viruses or influenza, they should speak with their primary care provider, public health nurse or nursing Station, or call Health Links – Info Santé (24 hours a day, 204-788-8200; Toll-free 1-888-315-9257).

Media contact:
Sara Locke