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Yukon hospital corp. advises parents on when to visit emergency room

Yukon Hospital Corp. outlines advice for families as respiratory illnesses increase
Many pharmacy shelves are empty of children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofun medication with limits in place for purchasers when it is in stock. Information on how to cut adult tablets to the proper dosage for children is also being provided. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

A rise in respiratory illnesses throughout the territory has prompted the Yukon Hospital Corp. to issue a document detailing when families should and shouldn’t be taking their children to the emergency room.

“If you are not sure about whether it is an emergency, 24/7 health advice from a registered nurse is available by dialing 8-1-1,” it states.

The document highlights when symptoms like breathing problems, fever, vomiting or diarrhea can be constituted an emergency.

For example, emergency attention is required for symptoms like respiratory distress (working hard to breathe); pale skin and whitish or blue lips; fever in a child under three months old; having difficulty waking a feverish child; vomiting or diarrhea containing blood or bright green; or vomiting so repeatedly the child is unable to keep liquids down.

Regular cold symptoms, however, most likely won’t require emergency attention, the document says. Those include congestion; cough; fever in generally healthy kids; vomiting less than 3 or 4 times a day; and ongoing diarrhea up to two weeks after a flu.

While immediate figures showing current hospital visits for respiratory illnesses wasn’t available, Yukon Hospital Corp. spokesperson Isaac MacDonald said the territory’s three hospitals are seeing numbers comparable to pre-pandemic levels.

The most recent figures show 39 people admitted to the Whitehorse hospital with respiratory illness between March and September; 37 with COVID-19, one with RSV and one with influenza.

Appearing as a witness before the Yukon Legislative Assembly on Nov. 14, Sudit Ranade, the Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, said it’s expected there will be a spike in respiratory illnesses similar to other regions of the country.

“Nobody can say for sure exactly what the surge will be or when it will come, and you will see it through health-system indicators like emergency department visits and admissions,” he said.

Hospitals across the country are struggling with what many are describing as an unprecedented surge of respiratory illnesses requiring hospital care. A number of paediatric hospitals, have seen staff redeployed to deal with the cases and services postponed.

In Toronto, the Hospital for Sick Children’s ICU was reported to be at 120 per cent capacity as of Dec. 12 due to the surge in respiratory illnesses among children.

In British Columbia, six children have died this fall from influenza with B.C. provincial health officer Bonnie Henry committing to weekly updates on childhood deaths from influenza this season.

In the Yukon, more people are seeking emergency care and it can be confusing and frustrating to deal with lengthy waits in an emergency department, adding to significant stress for families caring for sick childreng, MacDonald said.

That’s part of the reason the hospital corporation decided to put together the document advising residents on emergency room visits.

As an example, he noted, if a child has a bad cough and symptoms that appear like a common cold, even if it is interrupting sleep, a trip to the ER isn’t likely to be necessary.

Given the situation across the country, the Yukon Hospital Corp. is anticipating seeing more significant respiratory illnesses as the season continues.

MacDonald said efforts are underway to prepare including scheduling additional staff where possible, ensuring a supply of medication and equipment that may be needed and taking proactive measures through efforts like the document, encouraging staff to be up to date on vaccinations like the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot and more.

“There’s steps we take every flu season,” he said, adding those efforts are boosted this year.

Speaking to medication supply, he said officials aren’t concerned at this time.

While the hospitals remain stocked with medication, finding children’s medication for fevers and headaches on drug store shelves has been difficult, if not impossible, for many families in Whitehorse.

Some pharmacies have taken to letting families know how to cut adult dosages for children.

Also speaking to the respiratory illnesses making their way through the territory, Ranade issued a statement Nov. 12, calling on Yukoners to take preventative action.

“With the holiday season upon us and respiratory illnesses circulating in the territory, it’s important to put into practise everything we have learned over the past two years to reduce the spread of illness and make personal choices about how we manage our own risk,” he said in a statement.

“The best way to protect yourselves, children and loved ones from respiratory illnesses is to get vaccinated.”

Appointments can be made at or by calling a local health centre.

Sudit pointed to social gatherings that can be a highlight of the holiday season, noting that while there’s a risk of virus transmission with gatherings, socializing also has both physical and mental health benefits.

“I encourage Yukoners to balance their own needs and risks when deciding whether to attend or host a social gathering,” he said.

“Yukoners are reminded to stay home when they are sick, consider an outdoor event if the weather permits, gather in smaller groups, wash your hands often, and to wear a mask if you are feeling unwell and need to leave your home to get essential items such as medication and groceries.”

Those planning to visit more vulnerable people or the elderly are asked to postpone the visit if they aren’t feeling well.

— With files from Dana Hatherly

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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