Highly contagious bugs behind increases to Calgary ER visits

Calgary's top ER doctor says emergency rooms are busier than usual right now.

Patient volumes up 10 per cent this year over last

Dr. Eddy Lang says Calgary's emergency rooms are busier than usual right now. (Submitted by Dr. Eddy Lang)

Calgary's top ER doctor says emergency rooms are busier than usual right now.

According to Dr. Eddy Lang, head of emergency medicine in the Calgary zone, patient volumes are up 10 per cent over this time last year.

Lang says part of the problem is there are a lot of  highly contagious bugs circulating in the community .

"As people are gathering for holiday parties the infectious nature of these bugs is getting magnified because people are gathering in smaller and confined spaces," said Lang.

"So we're certainly seeing more visits for stomach flu [gastrointestinal illness] as well as for classic influenza which is the high fever and muscle aches. As well as just people coming in for bad colds — thinking that maybe they are having the flu and looking for some advice and help."

Infectious illnesses are the top reason for ER visits right now, according to Lang.

But the mild weather — and the freeze-thaw cycle that accompanies it — also plays a role.

"The cycle between chinooks and freezing weather is causing a lot of slips and falls on the ice and we're seeing a lot of fractures on the upper and lower body," said Lang

Another factor contributing to the higher than usual patient volumes, is the ongoing problem of drug addiction, according to Lang .

Current outbreaks

According to Alberta Health Services there have been 44 outbreaks of respiratory illnesses, including influenza and other viruses that cause the common cold, since the end of August.

Gastrointestinal bugs accounted for 53 outbreaks in the Calgary zone over the same time period.

Two respiratory outbreaks were active as of December 15, 2018.

By the time of publishing AHS had yet to provide the number of active gastrointestinal cases.

"When we call something an outbreak it basically means that there have been two or more cases of illness … over a seven day period," said Dr. Jia Hu, medical officer of health for Calgary.

"And these outbreaks have been predominantly in long-term care centres as well as K-12 schools." 

The most recent data from AHS shows 375 of the 626  Albertans hospitalized with influenza are in the Calgary zone.

Hu says while Calgary's flu season peaked early,  it appears to be levelling off.

That doesn't mean Calgarians should let down their guard, according to Hu. He's urging people get their flu shot, wash their hands regularly and stay home if they're sick.

Meanwhile, Calgary's ERs could be even harder hit over the next few weeks.

Dr. Eddy Lang says the busiest days of the year are generally Dec. 26 and Jan. 2, and there are plans in place to bring in extra staff during surge periods. 


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