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Flu or gastroenteritis: Good practices for preventing emergency room overflows

As the Holidays approach, the healthcare and social services establishments across Montréal are pulling together to remind the public of tips to use, of the resources available in the community, and of the steps to follow before going to a hospital emergency room.

It is important to keep in mind the fact that gatherings and events of all kinds are held at this time of year, and this tends to increase the number of flu and gastroenteritis cases in late December and early January. In fact, the majority of children and adults who visit the emergency rooms at Montréal-area hospitals are often suffering from harmless flu-like symptoms, thereby increasing wait times, particularly for non-urgent cases.

Home care is often the best solution 
“It’s important for parents to prepare for the flu season by knowing how to maintain their children’s health, such as caring for them at home when they have minor illnesses or injuries, and knowing when to consult a physician or visit the emergency room. Children in need of emergency care are treated as a priority. Nonetheless, patients who arrive at the emergency room with a cold, flu, or gastroenteritis should be prepared to wait for several hours before seeing a physician. Whether you are a child or an adult, harmless flu, gastroenteritis, and fever symptoms, which generally last between 3 and 5 days, can be cared for at home. Emergency services are intended for people whose health conditions require urgent care,” explained Dr. Antonio D’Angelo, the Head of Emergency at CHU Sainte-Justine. “If you have the flu, drink lots of water, and rest. You can also ask your pharmacist for advice on how to relieve your symptoms,” he added.

“Preventive measures, such as vaccination and practicing good breathing hygiene, are two of the best ways to reduce the number of unexpected visits to the emergency room and the long wait times that occur during the busiest time of year,” explained Dr. Harley Eisman, the Medical Director of Pediatric Emergency Services at the Montreal Children’s Hospital with the MUHC. “Avoid spreading the flu and gastroenteritis by washing your hands regularly, by sneezing into the crook of your elbow, by staying home when you are sick, and by avoiding contact with people who are vulnerable.” 

Flu vaccine: the most effective prevention 
“There’s still time to be vaccinated and protected from the flu and its complications, as is recommended in by the Programme d'immunisation du Québec. The vaccine is especially advisable for people whose health is fragile due to age or illness”, explained Dr. Carole Morissette, Medical Chief of Prévention et contrôle des maladies infectieuses with the Direction de santé publique de Montréal. She also offered the reminder that the vaccine is available at most medical clinics across Montréal, as well as from family doctors, CLSCs, and select pharmacies. “I urge you to visit santemontreal.ca/hiverensante to find a flu vaccine centre near you”. 

Alternatives to the emergency room 
Dr. François Loubert, a family doctor at the Clinique médicale Angus, made the following recommendation: “If you are sick or concerned about the health of a loved one, call Info-Santé at 811 first. The nurses at Info-Santé are available 24/7 to advise you and to tell you when and who to consult. You can also call your family doctor, visit a clinique-réseau at one of the five centres intégrés universitaire de santé et de services sociaux (CIUSSS) in the Montréal region, or a clinique-réseau to see a doctor without an appointment. Pharmacists are also excellent consultants.” 
 
For the hours of operation of the cliniques-réseau and the CIUSSS establishments in the Montréal region, please visit the following site: www.santemontreal.qc.ca/hiverensante. The CHU Sainte-Justine and the Montréal Children’s Hospital websites also offer a number of tips and useful information to help parents better assess the health of their loved ones: chusj.org, and thechildren.com.
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