An influx of patients reporting flu-like symptoms is overcrowding emergency rooms in Boston and across the region, forcing doctors to issue a plea to the public.
Doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital said its emergency department has been inundated with patients potentially infected with the flu, which often leads to longer wait times and sometimes forces doctors to treat patients in the hallway.
Lowell General Hospital also reported a surge in patients suffering from flu-like symptoms visiting its emergency room.
But doctors said the illness doesn't always require a trip to the hospital.
"We're noticing a level of crowding that is concerning us, and we still have a lot more flu season ahead of us," said Dr. Chris Baugh of Brigham and Women's Hospital. "Patients with cold and flu symptoms may not need to come to the emergency department for an evaluation."
Doctors said young children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses or who are pregnant are most likely to benefit from a visit to the emergency room.
They said young, healthy adults may be able to get by with a phone call to their health care provider.
"He or she can often manage your case over the telephone, sometimes by calling in flu medication, and you don't always need to be seen," said Dr. Paul Sax of Brigham and Women's Hospital.
He also stressed that it's not too late to get a flu shot.