Concerns over the swine flu are swamping Montreal area hospitals.

The Agence de la Sante says that as of Wednesday afternoon, there are 129 confirmed cases of H1N1 in Montreal.

But the Montreal Children's and Ste-Justine emergency rooms are being flooded with children with only mild flu-like symptoms.

The hospitals are now asking parents to stay calm, and stay away from emergency rooms unless it's a real emergency.

Even though the H1N1 virus season has only just started, both ERs are operating at 180 percent of capacity.

Many parents want to get their children tested for swine flu, even though in most cases it's not necessary.

"Mild flu-like symptoms should be treated at home," the hospitals said in a statement Thursday. "Also, due to the increased demand for care, the hospitals are NOT testing children to determine if they have H1N1."

Lorraine Chartrand is one parent who brought in her child, but he was at risk.

"He couldn't breathe and he could hardly walk," said Chartrand.

"That's what scared me on Monday, I couldn't breathe," said Jason Chartrand.

That is a risk factor, and when test results showed Jason had swine flu, he and his entire family were prescribed Tamiflu.

Not that serious

Treating the flu with anti-viral medication is at the discretion of the doctor, but both of Montreal's children's hospitals want parents to know it will definitely not be prescribed routinely in the emergency room.

"There are certain children who we're going to give Tamiflu," said Dr. Michael Arsenault, director of the ER at Ste. Justine Hospital. "The children that are at risk, that have heart disease, that have cancer."

Dr. Harley Eisman, Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Children's, says the swine flu a relatively mild form of the flu.

"A lot of patients who are presenting have mild, flu-like illnesses that probably could be treated well at home or in the community," said Dr. Eisman.

It's very similar in severity to the annual flu virus.

The only difference is that flu season has started earlier and more people are being infected, he says.

Government decision chart

Fever alone should not warrant a trip to the ER.

The Quebec government's H1N1 decision chart , which says that children under two with a fever of 38 degrees celsius should see a doctor immediately.

But doctors say that is a mistake, and they have a different criteria.

"What we want to see is specifically in terms of age range is children less than three months with fever," more than 38 degrees Celsius said Dr. Eisman.

For children of any age, "if your child looks like they're working, breathing heavily, working to breathe, wheezing, their colour is off," bring them in.

Reasons to visit ER

The hospitals have provided the following checklist that parents should consult when deciding whether to visit a CLSC, walk-in clinic, their doctor's office, or the ER.

Anyone with the symptoms listed here should be taken to an emergency room immediately:

  • Difficulty breathing (eg. breathing faster than normal; pale skin; whitish or bluish lips; excessive coughing; choking or breathing irregularly)
  • An injury where it is suspected that a bone may be broken or stitches required
  • Vomiting following an injury
  • Fever over 38 degrees C (100.4 degrees F) in a child up to three months old
  • Fever and extreme tiredness
  • Rash that does not turn white when touched
  • Diarrhea, vomiting and no tears, a very dry mouth, and no urinated at least two times over 24 hours

If in doubt, or to learn the location of walk-in clinics in Montreal, call Info-Sante at 811.