MONTREAL—Hospital emergency rooms across the island are overcrowded, leaving physicians to plead a warning they deliver annually: children with the flu should be treated at home, not at overburdened ERs.

With doctors calling for rest, chicken soup and fever relief for the flu, they warn that too many people squeezed into an ER makes the entire system less efficient and compromises care for people with more serious problems.

The holidays traditionally are a season of sickness and flu in the ER.

“Our emergency room usually runs at a sweet spot of 200 patients a day, and we're over 300,” said Dr. Harley Eisman of the Montreal Children’s Hospital. “We’re asking the population to think twice before rushing to the emergency room.”

Flanked by four doctors from Montreal’s major hospitals, Eisman warned that the flu is fully treatable at home, and the ER itself carries heavy risks.

“When you do bring your child into the emergency room, you might arrive with the flu, but leave with the gastro. So there is significant contagion,” said Eisman.

As an alternative, parents can call Info-Sante at 811, the help line is staffed by nurses 24 hours a day. Local CLSCs are also a safe option.

“You should also be washing your hands, don't reuse Kleenexes, we know the virus can live 48 hours on inanimate objects, so spoons, glasses, shouldn't be shared,” said Dr. Silvana Trifiro of the Santa Cabrini Hospital.

There are exceptions: if a child is less than three months old or has a fever that hasn’t broken in five days, or if the child is unusually lethargic, go to ER.