Pediatrician pop quiz: When to go to the emergency room during flu season

Montreal Children's Hospital's Dr. Dominic Chalut answers the Dos and Don'ts of when to bring your child to an emergency room during flu season.

Montreal Children's Hospital doctor explains when to stay at home and not overcrowd ERs

Dr. Dominic Chalut said that parents often bring their children to the emergency rooms with a virus, making wait times even longer. (CBC)

Quebec's emergency rooms are seeing a boom in patients, thanks in part to an early flu season, along with people in close quarters, spreading both holiday cheer and germs.

Some ERs in Quebec have become so overcrowded that wait times are crawling upwards of 12 hours.

At the Montreal Children's Hospital, more than half of the 300 or so patients who arrive daily during the holidays just have a cold or a flu, according to pediatrician​ Dr. Dominic Chalut, who specializes in emergency care.

When should a child be brought to the hospital? Chalut answered our pop quiz about it.

Do I bring a child with the flu who also has shortness of breath or difficulty breathing?

Dr. Chalut says DO go to the ER if there is shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. (CBC)

"You should probably come ... Especially if the child is telling you, 'I've got significant difficulty breathing.'

The challenge, though, is some kids may not know exactly what difficulty breathing means. They may have a runny or stuffy nose, and they're going to say it's congested.

If it's just a congestion, a regular cough and a bit of a fever, don't [come]. But if there's significant difficulty breathing, the kid should be seen."

The child has a headache and a stuffy nose

Dr. Chalut says DON'T go to the ER if the child has the symptoms of a regular cold. (CBC)

"I will say, don't come. That's very common.

Most kids right now have a cold. They may complain of a bit of a headache, a majority of them have a stuffy nose. They will have cough and they may have fever.

You can give them hot water, time, Tylenol for fever and also for headaches or ibuprofen and eventually, it will subside." 

What about a headache, stuffy nose and a fever for 4 days?

Dr. Chalut says IT DEPENDS on certain factors, whether you should go to the ER after having a fever for four days or more. (CBC)

"I will say, maybe.

If the kid is active, playful ... he's probably okay to be observed at home. I may keep him an extra two to three days extra. If in two or three days, he still has a fever that persists, he should get checked.

If he is complaining about unusual symptoms, he should be seen.

But if it's just a cough, runny nose and a fever, you can probably wait."


Sarah Leavitt


Sarah Leavitt is a multimedia journalist with CBC who loves hearing people's stories. Tell her yours: or on Twitter @SarahLeavittCBC.