Know where to go when your child has a cold or the flu
By Dr. Karen Gripp
Published Monday, November 29, 2021
When your child is ill with a cold or the flu, you want to get them the best care as quickly as possible. In the majority of cases, however, an emergency department or urgent care centre isn't your best option to achieve that goal.
That's never an easy message for a pediatrician like me to deliver, but it's born out of a simple truth: emergency departments and urgent care centres prioritize patients based on the severity of their medical condition. Unless they are very sick, a child with cold or flu symptoms is a lower priority, meaning that there's a good chance you and your child will spend hours in a waiting room as we provide care to higher acuity patients.
And once you are seen, there's a good chance it will be only for a few short minutes as we provide some reassurance and go over a few tips you can use at home to comfort them.
The good news is that, when it comes to cold and flu, knowing where to take your child will help them receive the right care sooner, and spare you from a potentially long wait.
During respiratory virus season, your child may experience mild cold and flu symptoms that can include fever or chills, nasal congestion or runny nose, cough, sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches or body aches, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and others. Rest assured, if you feel that your child needs to see a health care provider, they can be readily assessed by your family physician, pediatrician, or at a walk-in clinic, all of whom can escalate care if required.
While the COVID-19 virus continues to circulate in our communities, there's an additional consideration when seeking care for your child. You may wonder if they need to be tested and if they - and potentially you - need to isolate until their results are back and they are no longer sick. Learn more at (insert the testing or screening link). Children can be quickly tested for COVID-19 at any COVID testing site and do not need to see a health care provider to be tested.
To help you access care more quickly, here is how to know where to go in Winnipeg when your child is ill.
Where to Go?
Staying home or seeking care at your primary care clinic or doctor should always be your first choice for mild symptoms. Contact your primary care provider (if you have one) or a walk-in clinic (if you don't) during normal hours of operation.
On evenings and weekends, Winnipeg Walk-In Connected Care Clinics (WICCs) are great options for families, including clinics at 363 McGregor St., and at ACCESS Fort Garry at 135 Plaza Drive. You can call ahead to confirm hours or check on wait times. Call the McGregor WICC at 204-940-1963, and ACCESS Fort Garry at 204-940-7100.
At this point, you might well be wondering why I'm trying to convince you not to visit the emergency department if your child has a cold or the flu. Let's look at the numbers.
At Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg's Children's Emergency Department, staff and physicians often see between 140 and 160 children per day. Unlike adult emergency departments where visits are more evenly spread out throughout the day, most of our patients arrive in the late afternoon and evening. Parents and guardians often bring kids in waves, with as many as 20 patients an hour presenting around the same time. That leads to long waits for seeing a physician.
Statistically, we know that between one-third and one-half of these children didn't need a higher level of care and could have been seen more quickly by a primary care provider (your family physician or by a health care professional at a walk-in clinic).
To put it another way, we don't like to see you spending hours in a waiting room when you could have received the same level of care in less time by knowing your options.
Knowing where to go will be especially important this winter and into next year, as we expect an unusually busy season for colds and other viruses.
During their first few winter seasons, young children catch almost literally every virus that comes around, which helps build up their immune system. Many of them will average one or two viral infections per month, each of which can last 10-14 days.
As a parent, you'll want to know what to look for, when they should see a doctor, and when they should be seen in the emergency department. Thankfully, there are some handy resources at your disposal.
For local information on where and when to seek medical care for your children, visit myrightcare.ca/pediatric-childrens-care/. If in doubt, call Health Links - Info Santé at 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257. This free service is available 24/7 with nurses who can assess and provide advice on if and where to go.
The Canadian Pediatric Society's website at caringforkids.cps.ca is also a great resource, as is TREKK's site at trekk.ca/healthconsumers. (TREKK is an acronym for Translating Emergency Knowledge for Kids, a network that aims to improve emergency care for children across Canada.) Both of these sites offer a wealth of information on viruses affecting children's health.
Emergency departments and urgent care centres will continue to be there when you need them, but availing yourself of other options where appropriate may save you a great deal of time and aggravation. That being the case, "Know where to go" is great advice.
Dr. Karen Gripp is a pediatric emergency physician and Medical Director of the HSC Winnipeg Children's Hospital Emergency Department.