Children’s ER seeing ‘unprecedented’ patient levels in Winnipeg as feds secure more pain medications

As Winnipeg’s children’s emergency department sees “unprecedented” patient volumes and schools report high numbers of sick days among students, a city pharmacist is encouraged to hear Health Canada has secured a foreign supply of children’s acetaminophen.

A Canada-wide shortage of the medications has had parents searching community groups for help, and others even crossing the border to grab a bottle in the U.S.

Read more: Children’s pain medication to continue to be ‘intermittently available’: Health Canada

Abdalla Elharty, who manages Sage Creek Pharmacy in Winnipeg, says his store has been sold out of children’s Tylenol and children’s Advil since September.

“Not a day passing by without at least two or three calls inquiring about Tylenol or Advil or any sort of medication that will deal with fever or achiness for kids,” Elharty said in an interview with Global News Monday, pausing twice to take calls from parents looking for medication.

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“It’s quite a disappointment … our hands are tied.”

But there was some good news Monday, as Health Canada announced new shipments of children’s pain medication will be available for retail purchase “in the coming weeks,” thanks to foreign supplies of the medication recently secured by federal government.

Read more: Canada secures more foreign shipments of kids’ pain medications amid ongoing shortage

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says the shipments are “equivalent to months of normal supply” of analgesics, which is in addition to increased domestic production of these products.

Elharty says the shortage of children’s pain medications has been an issue for some time, but the start of cold and flu season has highlighted the problems.

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Health Canada says the countrywide shortage of children’s formulations of acetaminophen and ibuprofen is due to unprecedented demand. Manufacturers of these drugs in Canada have increased production by 30 per cent, but demand continues to outstrip supply.

The shortage comes as Canada is experiencing what is being called a “triple-demic” of cases of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and an early onset of the flu season.

Children’s ER at ‘unprecedented levels’

The viruses are playing a role in significant challenges facing children’s hospitals across Canada, which are swamped with kids suffering from respiratory illnesses.

In Winnipeg, Shared Health said Monday patient volumes at Health Sciences Centre’s children’s emergency department have hit “unprecedented levels.”

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“Patient volumes at HSC Children’s emergency department have been on the rise since the last weekend of October, as an early start to respiratory virus and influenza season in our province have driven numbers to unprecedented levels,” a Shared Health spokesperson said in an email.

“This is creating significant challenges for our physicians and staff, who are working to maintain a high quality of care for increasing numbers of patients.”

Shared Health said so far in November the children’s ER has seen an average of roughly 174.5 patient visits per day, outpacing a record set in December 2019 when an average of 170.3 patients were seen per day.

Read more: Manitoba’s top doctor urges COVID, flu shots amid rising cases, struggling health-care system

There were 201 patient visits at the children’s ER on Sunday alone, Shared Health said, the highest single-day patient count the department has seen “in at least several years.”

Shared Health said the children’s ER is seeing kids testing positive for a “variety of respiratory viruses” including bronchiolitis caused by RSV, which resulted in the hospitalization of 23 pediatric patients in October and another 12 so far in November — including two who were admitted to intensive care.

There were 10 children in pediatric ICU at HSC as of Monday morning, Shared Health said, and 54 in neonatal ICU (NICU), including “an unprecedented” 12 infants in isolation in the NICU due to what they describe as a “respiratory illness.”

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Click to play video: 'More sick kids at HSC Children’s Hospital'

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Meanwhile, Winnipeg schools are also reporting a high number of sick days among students.

The River East Transcona school division said Monday 17 percent of students were absent last Tuesday alone — due to illness or appointments.

The Louis Riel School Division says about 10.7 per cent of students were absent in the month of October compared to 9.5 per cent last year.

St. James-Assiniboia School Division has also seen an increase in illness-related absences, the division told Global News Monday.

Read more: Canada still facing shortage of kid’s pain medications. What options do parents have?

Elharty says the medication shortages are likely adding strain to Manitoba’s already thinly-stretched hospital system.

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“If you have a child and his fever is spiked … they need something that will deal with that for sure — this could be quite scary,” he said.

“(Parents) don’t have the medication that they could use at the first stage of the situation, so they go to a doctor, maybe, or a hospital, and then you know, that increases the burden on the healthcare system.”

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The shipments of children’s acetaminophen announced Monday are the latest in efforts from the federal government to secure additional supplies of children’s pain medications.

Last month, Health Canada approved the exceptional importation of ibuprofen from the United States and acetaminophen from Australia, to supply hospitals in Canada amid the shortages.

Read more: Manitoba reports slight drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations, 11 more deaths

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The ibuprofen shipments have already arrived in Canada and distribution to hospitals has begun, according to a statement from Health Canada issued Monday.

The federal government is advising parents and caregivers to only buy what’s needed, so that enough supply can reach as many children as possible.

–with files from Global’s  Iris Dyck and Teresa Wright 

&© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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