Skip to content

LGH ER sees uptick in visits for kids' respiratory illness

Children’s rates of influenza vaccination between 16 and 25 per cent on North Shore
Lions Gate Hospital has experienced a recent uptick in kids' visits for respiratory illness like flu and RSV. Photo: Mike Wakefield / North Shore News

With more kids being hit with respiratory viruses, a greater than usual number of children aged 17 and under have recently been showing up to the Lions Gate emergency department with those kinds of problems, according to Vancouver Coastal Health.

As one recent example, in a two-day period, Nov. 23 to Nov. 25, 21 kids were brought to the North Vancouver ER with respiratory illness. One of those children was subsequently admitted to hospital, according to VCH.

During that same time period, the North Shore Urgent and Primary Care Centre averaged nine visits a day from kids under 19 for respiratory-related reasons.

The uptick in kids’ visits for respiratory illness on the North Shore comes as BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver has experienced a more serious surge of patients showing up to the ER for similar problems. In the face of lengthy waits, that sometimes stretched to 12 hours, that has meant triaging some less serious cases from BC Children’s emergency department to other health care facilities nearby due to a surge of kids with respiratory illnesses.

Most kids’ ER visits due to flu

Most of the recent surge in respiratory viruses among children has been caused by influenza, rather than COVID-19, according to Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s health officer.

Vancouver Coastal Health has reported a much higher number of flu cases this fall than has been seen for the past two years.

Henry said in a press briefing Monday that the strain of flu circulating this year can cause more severe illness in both young children and seniors.

Henry said hospitals around the province have reported this week they are seeing more serious cases of flu in children. Influenza can actually cause more severe illness in children than COVID-19, said Henry, including leading to secondary bacterial infections that can cause severe pneumonia.

Flu vaccination rates remain low in children

All children over the age of six months are eligible for influenza vaccination, and flu shots are being given free at COVID-19 clinics and at pharmacies, but rates of vaccination among kids have remained stubbornly low, even in the face of sick kids showing up to emergency departments.

Across B.C. only about 15 per cent of kids and teens have received the flu vaccine this fall.

Those vaccination numbers are slightly better on the North Shore.

According to the Ministry of Health, 16 per cent of kids aged six months to four years old have received flu vaccine in West Vancouver, while 22 per cent have received the jab in North Vancouver. Among children and teens aged five to 17, those flu vaccination rates are 20 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.

On Monday, Henry and Dix urged families to get their kids vaccinated ahead of the holiday season to avoid overwhelming hospitals with sick children or passing the flu on to vulnerable family members. For children with a strong aversion to needles, a nasal spray containing the flu vaccine is also available.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 vaccination rates also remain low in children.

Only eight per cent of children four and under in West Vancouver and 13 per cent of that age group in North Vancouver have received two doses of vaccine.

Among kids aged five to 11, rates of vaccination are better on the North Shore. Between 51 and 62 per cent of them have received at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

The North Vancouver School District has reported an approximately five per cent absence rate for students recently – slightly higher than normal. Similarly, in the West Vancouver School District, rates of absenteeism among elementary school children has also been slightly higher than normal for this time of year.