GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Pediatric emergency room Dr. Matt Denenberg is pretty good at following his own prescription for staying healthy during cold and flu season.

And these days, that prescription involves lots of soap and water.

“You want to wash for 20 seconds,” Denenberg said as he shows off his hand washing technique between patients in the Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital’s emergency department. “Some people say sing happy birthday twice.  Some people say the alphabet. In between the fingers and everywhere — you want to keep scrubbing.”

But for many patients crowding local emergency rooms, it’s too late for that prevention advice.

The three major Grand Rapids hospitals — Spectrum Butterworth, Metro Health and Mercy Health Saint Mary’s — are all seeing a major spike in the number of patients coming in with the flu and other respiratory illnesses.

“We’re seeing record volumes, over a thousand patients in the hospital today (Wednesday), for example. Our ERs are seeing record volumes, record numbers. We’re just overwhelmed with patients,” Denenberg said.

Therefore, the hospitals are asking visitors who are not feeling well to stay home to avoid spreading the illnesses.

If you have a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a cough, sore throat, runny nose or congestion, vomiting, diarrhea, a rash or draining sores, call your doctor, but don’t show up during visiting hours.

“Visiting patients who are sick is not good for our patients. It’s not good for the visitors,” Denenberg said.

Each Grand Rapids hospital has been dealing with high numbers of respiratory illnesses the past few weeks. But in the last few days, flu numbers have jumped.

“We’re definitely seeing more of the other viruses up until this point. But now we’re seeing quite a few influenza cases, kind of signaling we’re near peak level of activity, or it’s going to be even worse,” said Kent County Health Department Epidemiologist Supervisor Brian Hartl. “It’s definitely a pinch on the system right now. “

So far, none of the hospitals are over capacity.

At Spectrum Butterworth, they have activated their command center.

“It gets all of our people together in one space to kind of deal with how we move patients around the system. How we bring patients in and stay open for the community,” Denenberg said.

The request to stay away isn’t just for the visitors.

If you come down with a bug, health officials say your first call should be to your personal physician or an urgent care.

But other symptoms should send you to the ER.

“Where you have a really hard time breathing, labored breathing, chest pain, confusion. Those types of things that indicate a more serious illness, that’s when you want to go to the hospital,” Hartl said.

And if you haven’t got a flu shot, doctors say it’s not too late. Getting one may keep you away from the ER.