Posted on January 21, 2018

In recent weeks, as temperatures have continued to drop, Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) five Pediatric Emergency Centers (PECs) have seen an increase in the number of patients presenting with cold and flu symptoms.

Dr. Mohammed Al Amri, Senior Consultant for Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Assistant Director of the PECs, said the increase in the number of children coming to the PECs since the onset of winter also coincides with the start of the new school term.  “Across all five of HMC’s PECs, we see around 3,000 cases per day with Al Sadd PEC receiving the highest number of patients at around 1,700 cases per day. This is followed by Al Rayyan PEC, which sees up to 750 cases daily. The Old Airport PEC receives around 300 cases each day while the PECs in Al Daayen and Al Shamal receive around 200 patients each day,” he noted.

He added that during times of higher patient volumes, the number of nursing and medical staff is increased. In treating patients, priority is given to critical situations where the child is experiencing dangerous or life-threatening symptoms, such as a cardiac arrest or convulsions. The PECs are equipped to handle a wide range of conditions – from chronic disease to critical illness; however, patients of children with minor illnesses are asked to seek treatment at their local health centers, with only emergency cases going to the PECs.

Dr. Al Amri explained that the cooler climate is ‘fertile ground’ for the spread of viruses. “Winter is the perfect season for the spread of viruses such as the flu and common cold, and especially for a virus known as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) - a common and very contagious virus that infects the respiratory tract of most children before their second birthday. RSV is characterized by a high temperature, cough, and sore throat. It appears in newborns in the form of bronchitis and can also cause children to feel lethargic,” he explained.

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Speaking about the prescribing of antibiotics in treating children with a high temperature, Dr. Al Amri warns against excessive use. “Antibiotics should be given only in cases of bacterial infection or ear infections. Antibiotics are not effective in the treatment of viral infections as they destroy beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. It is also important for parents to know that cough inhibitors are strictly prohibited for newborns and should not be given to children under six years of age as they could affect their nervous system,” he cautioned.

He added that teachers and other school staff can play an important role in preventing the spread of illness by being observant and recognizing symptoms of illness, such as a high temperature, and then ensure prompt communication with the child’s parents. He also recommends schools promote the importance of good personal hygiene, such as hand washing especially, when a child is sick. He noted that it is better to keep sick children at home for at least two days and prevent them from having contact with other children, especially newborns.

The PEC has a dedicated 24-hour telephone hotline that is managed by registered nurses and aims to provide quick and appropriate advice about common pediatric health conditions and to decrease unnecessary visits to its facilities. The hotline can be reached at 4439 6011 and 4439 6066. “We receive about 200 calls per month on our hotline, most of which are related to medications,” he explained.