Doctors in the province are worried about the rise of illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus among children, and the added strain on the health-care system, according to the past president of the New Brunswick Medical Society.

Dr. Mark MacMillan, who works at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, says a pediatrician colleague has seen more cases of the common respiratory virus, referred to as RSV, in the past two weeks than they’ve seen in the past three years.

An infectious disease colleague has seen 50 positive cases of the flu in the past two weeks — “the most we’ve seen in a very, very long time.”

And COVID-19 is “still here, obviously,” with four more deaths reported Tuesday and 29 people hospitalized because of the virus.

The health-care system already has a “bit of a human resources crisis,” said MacMillan.

‘To the point of breaking’

“Add on RSV infections, influenza infections and, of course, COVID infections, requiring people to be off work, and that just further strains the system to the point of breaking,” he said.

“We just don’t have surge capacity available right now in the system.”

If infection rates and hospitalization rates continue to increase, hospitals may have to start cancelling non-emergent procedures, MacMillan advised.

“And that of course will further increase our wait list and our backlog.… So that’s the issue right now is trying to protect the system, keep our doors open as best as we can.”

Doctors, scientists and hospital officials in some jurisdictions, such as Ontario and Manitoba, have called on public health officials to bring back mask mandates as hospitals are overwhelmed by cases of RSV, the flu and COVID-19.

RSV causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. While many infections are simple colds, children under two are at risk of severe illness such as bronchiolitis — a blockage of small airways in the lungs — or pneumonia, and may be hospitalized.

National RSV positivity rate jumps 5% in a month

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, children were commonly exposed to RSV, but cases dropped dramatically across the country when protective health measures, such as masking and distancing, were in place.

Now, cases are surging, with a federal positivity rate of 7.7 per cent, as of Nov. 5, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. That’s up from about 2.5 per cent a month earlier and from 1.1 per cent in September.

In New Brunswick, RSV is not a reportable disease, said Department of Health spokesperson Adam Bowie. “That means it is not monitored or communicated to the public in the same way a reportable disease, such as COVID-19, would be,” he said.

But MacMillan says RSV is affecting hospital capacity.

“We are starting to see more and more visits,” he said.

“And you have to remember that for every RSV patient that’s admitted to hospital [there’s] also multiple out in the community who aren’t as sick, needing to come to the hospital, but they’re also very contagious and can infect other, usually children, or more vulnerable senior adults.”

No vaccine for RSV

No vaccine for RSV is available. Public Health recommends all New Brunswickers stay up to date on other respiratory vaccines, however, such as the ones for the flu and COVID-19.

This can help in reducing hospitalizations, severe outcomes and strain on the health-care system, the Department of Health spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of RSV, or flu-like symptoms, should stay home “until they feel better, and their symptoms have subsided,” Bowie said.

“In addition, they can cover their nose and mouth with their elbow when coughing, and should wash their hands regularly – particularly after sneezing and coughing and blowing their nose.”

Anyone concerned about worsening symptoms of any respiratory illness should consult with their primary care provider, call Tele-Care 811 to speak with a registered nurse, visit an after-hours clinic, or visit before attending an emergency room, he said.

‘I think we may be in trouble’

Although New Brunswick hasn’t seen many cases of the flu over the past couple of years, this year’s strains appear to be “quite infectious,” said MacMillan.

“So we are expecting numbers to continue to climb.”

The numbers in the southern communities are already “concerning,” he said.

“Right now we are doing OK,” but MacMillan noted it’s still early in the season.

If New Brunswick sees the numbers seen in other regions that have already gone through their flu season, “I think we may be in trouble,” he said.

The medical society is “strongly encouraging” New Brunswickers to consider wearing a mask, especially when indoors and around vulnerable people.

This content was originally published here.