Doctors at the Alberta Children's Hospital are blaming an early flu season for a jump in the number of patients arriving at the emergency department.

While December is always considered a busy month, officials estimate this year the volume of patients is up by about 20 per cent at the children's hospital in northwest Calgary.

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The Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary has seen a 20 per cent jump in emergency room visits this month. (CBC)

Dr. David Chaulk, medical director and emergency room physician at the Alberta Children's Hospital, is reminding parents that will probably mean longer waits in the emergency department.

"As the hospital reaches capacity, it becomes more difficult to move patients that are admitted out of the emergency department, leaving us with fewer beds to see patients. That has the biggest effect on our wait times," said Chaulk.

He can't say if the increase is connected to fewer people getting vaccinated, but Chaulk does say emergency rooms across the city appear to be busier than usual.

Wait times affected

Chaulk said they are increasing the number of physicians on shift, but they treat the more serious patients first so some will have to wait several hours.

Calgary pediatrician Dr. Peter Nieman is seeing double the patients in his southwest office than he usually does this time of year, and many with influenza-like symptoms.

Nieman isn't sure why the flu is early this year — which tends to peak in January or February — except it's been an early cold winter and that keeps people indoors and spreading germs.

"The kids who will need help in the hospital are usually the ones who are at risk for dehydration," he said.