London hospitals brace for record-breaking flu season, all-time high ER wait times

London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) is preparing for what could be the worst flu season they’ve seen in recent history.

One doctor tells CBC News that a combination of changing viral timelines and past quarantines is making for what has already been the start of an atypical flu season. LHSC is on pace to see the most flu patients they have ever seen in one year, according to Dr. Rodrick Lim, director of the paediatric emergency department.

“The usual timings of viruses has been thrown into a blender. We have seen viruses present over the course of the summer that we have never seen in the summer before last year,” said Lim.

Flu season has already started in the southern United States, he said, which is unusual considering the flu season usually takes place from November to the early winter.

“We also anticipate that because people have been quarantined and sheltered for the past two years during the pandemic, their susceptibility to viruses, including influenza, will be high this year.”

An ambulance is parked outside the emergency department at the Victoria campus of the London Health Sciences Centre. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Children are especially susceptible to illness, despite handling the flu well. Lim says they are effective transmitters to loved ones and family members, which can oftentimes spell trouble when family members interacting with ill children are more vulnerable.

“This, coupled with tremendous stresses for emergency departments right now can lead to quite a challenging fall winter,” said Lim.

Emergency room wait times are anticipated to climb to record levels as well, as has already been seen in October. This comes at a time when emergency departments across Canada continue to buckle beneath the weight of demand while an exodus of healthcare workers stretches resources ever more thinly.

“We are under extreme duress. I think almost every emergency doctor will tell you that this is the worst that they’ve ever seen in their career,” said Lim. “I really worry about these upcoming months and I hope that we are able to make it through.”

Lim says the single most important thing people can do to ease the burden is to stay home when they feel ill, whether that be calling in sick from work, school, or family events. He also believes all Canadians can play an essential part by getting their flu shot.

“I think we all can do our part to protect ourselves and our loved ones. I know the healthcare sector really appreciates the public’s effort.”

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