Doctors and nurses are reminding the public that a hospital emergency room should not be first stop for most patients.

Dr. Gregory Clark, Associate Chief of Emergency at the Glen Site, said that patients must remember that emergency room doctors do not treat people on a first-come-first-served basis.

He said many patients coming into emergency rooms at the moment are not sick enough to need medical care; nobody needs to see a doctor because they have a runny nose.

"We also have young, healthy people who come to see us with their flu symptoms that really there's nothing that we're going to do for them. They're simply going to be sick for a week and then go back to their regular life," said Clark.

He said most people with influenza cannot be helped in an emergency room, and will expose others to the virus who will end up being in danger.

"Cancer patients, COPD patients, people with chronic lung disease, heart disease. All of these people are vulnerable. When they catch the flu they can die from it, which is obviously not what we want," said Clark.

Prevention is the best cure

The MUHC is advising people to get vaccinated against the flu before the disease peaks, likely at the end of February.

So far this season there have been a handful of cases of Influenza B, and fewer than 400 cases of Influenza A in Quebec.

The Health Ministry has created an online tool to help people decide whether or not they need to go to an emergency room for the flu.

It also suggests when people should call their family doctors, or call Info Santé at 8-1-1, before walking into an emergency room.

As part of the Health Ministry's preferred method for treatment, it would rather patients see their family doctor first, then go to an affiliated clinic, then the ER if necessary.

For several years the provincial government has been encouraging family doctors to ensure they have space available every day to see last-minute patients.

The Health Ministry can even dock pay from doctors who have too many patients that go to clinics or emergency rooms.