New Brunswick

RSV cases hit record high in N.B., but no update yet on making it a reportable disease

Eleven weeks after New Brunswick's acting top doctor said Public Health would look "in the near future" into whether respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, should be made a reportable disease in the province, a review hasn't started yet.

1,500 cases confirmed in 11 weeks since acting top doc said issue would be looked at in 'near future'

There were 86 new cases of RSV confirmed in New Brunswick during the week ending Jan. 28, the latest figures available. That's down from 140 the previous week. (Paul Sakuma/The Associated Press)

Eleven weeks after New Brunswick's acting top doctor said Public Health would look "in the near future" into whether respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, should be made a reportable disease in the province, a review hasn't started yet.

About 1,500 more New Brunswickers have since tested positive for RSV.

That's the highest number of RSV cases the province has recorded in at least a decade — and there are still roughly six months left in the season.

"It takes time to complete this kind of review, as it requires the collection of data and a critical analysis," said Department of Health spokesperson Adam Bowie.

He did not say how much longer it will take for the review to begin.

"When the Department of Health does review its list of reportable diseases, it will consider respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and whether it should be added to New Brunswick's list of reportable diseases, at that time," Bowie said in an emailed statement.

RSV is a common respiratory virus most children contract by the age of two. It usually causes a mild illness with cold-like symptoms, but can be "an important cause of morbidity and mortality in infants, young children and the elderly," according to Health Canada.

Unlike some other provinces, RSV is not currently a reportable disease in New Brunswick. That means it is not monitored or communicated to the public in the same way as a reportable disease, such as COVID-19 or the flu, with weekly reports.

No data on hospitalizations, deaths

If RSV was a reportable disease under the Public Health Act, "laboratory staff from all regional hospitals would have to submit the result to the regional public health team, where additional information would be collected about each case for analysis," Bowie has said.

As it stands, the province simply inputs RSV test data into the national surveillance system weekly.

No information about RSV-related hospitalizations or deaths, or breakdowns by ages are available.

Horizon and Vitalité health networks have not responded to previous requests for information.

On Nov. 18, during a media briefing on RSV, COVID-19 and the flu, and their impact on the hospital system, Dr. Yves Léger, then-acting chief medical officer of health, told reporters, New Brunswick does not have RSV as a reportable disease, "in large part because … it is a very common infection that affects pretty well all children by the age of two."

Léger said the Public Health Act "gets revised regularly and we'll certainly be looking at that in the near future to see if we should be considering adding that in." 

Health officials believe the RSV season started early and quickly in part because children who weren't exposed to the virus during pandemic protective measures are now all being exposed at the same time, according to Dr. Yves Léger, who served as the acting chief medical officer of health during Dr. Jennifer Russell's recent medical leave. (Submitted by Dr. Yves Léger)

Forty-five New Brunswickers had tested positive for RSV at that time.

The provincial total has since climbed to 1,538 so far this season, as of the week ending Jan. 28, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada's website.

That's 122 per cent higher than the 2021-22 seasonal total of 371.

In 2020-21, during COVID-19 protective measures, such as masking and physical distancing, the province had no confirmed cases of RSV all season.

Data on the federal government's website dating back to 2013-14 shows that until now, the most cases the province has had was 1,237 during the 2018-19 season.

The province blew past that record about three weeks ago, when the total reached 1,312.

The 2022-23 season, which began Aug. 28, continues into August.

Previous seasonal totals for RSV

  • 2020-21 — 0
  • 2019-20 — 1,077
  • 2018-19 — 1,237
  • 2017-18 — 786
  • 2016-17 — 649
  • 2015-16 — 300
  • 2014-15 — 78
  • 2013-14 — 52


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