It's flu season, and many of Quebec's emergency rooms are over capacity as a result.

Hospitals normally experience some overcrowding this time of year, but ERs in the Montérégie and Laurentian regions are operating at double capacity.

In Quebec City, too, several ERs were filled beyond their limit, including the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Saint-Sacrement and Saint-François d'Assise hospitals. 

"We are really in the midst of the flu season right now," said Dr. Karl Weiss, head of infectious diseases at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.

The Jewish General's emergency room was at 175-per cent capacity on Saturday. Laurentian Hospital's was at 156 per cent, and the McGill University Health Centre was at 99-per cent capacity.

"The holiday season is always a kind of triggering factor for the flu because everybody's together," Weiss said. "The grandparents are meeting the grandchildren."

Some hospitals are putting restrictions in place to deal with the issue. Longueuil's Pierre Boucher Hospital, for instance, won't allow sick patients to be accompanied unless necessary.

Know when you need to go to emergency

Quebec's Health Ministry only recommends seeking medical assistance if you have difficulty breathing and a lingering fever in addition to the other flu symptoms.

The flu is viral so a prescription for antibiotics won't help, Weiss said.

He added that if a fever persists for more than four days and symptoms are not improving, it could be time to seek medical help.

Emergency room

The MUHC advises those concerned about their health to first call Info-Santé (dial 811), where nurses are available to answer questions. (CBC)

Also, if breathing becomes difficult, Weiss recommends heading to emergency. It could be a sign of pneumonia.

The MUHC advises those concerned about their health to first call Info-Santé (dial 811), where nurses are available to answer questions.

Next, the hospital centre recommends visiting a family doctor, or locating a walk-in clinic if a patient doesn't have one.

Of course for situations that require immediate care, the hospital urges people to call 911 or go directly to emergency.

Flu vaccine could be less effective this year

Quebec's Health Ministry also recommends getting a flu vaccination to prevent infection.

But Canada's chief public health officer says it's possible that this year's flu vaccine may have limited effectiveness against a particularly severe strain of influenza A, which appears to be dominant throughout Canada.  

"In Canada it's still too early to actually tell how effective this vaccine will be," Dr. Theresa Tam told CBC News. "There is a potential ... of low-vaccine effectiveness, but we really can't tell at this point in time."  

The H3N2 strain, a subtype of influenza A, is associated with more severe illness among children and the elderly, causing a majority of flu cases.

According to Tam, the potential for lower vaccine effectiveness makes it even more important that Canadians take other measures to protect themselves against the flu.

These include handwashing, coughing into your sleeve, disposing of used tissues and staying home when you're sick. 

With files from CBC's Sarah Leavitt, Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press