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Immunization still urged as flu moves west

Remember to cover those sneezes and coughs. The flu virus hitting eastern Canada could still bring a late winter peak in flu activity here. - File
Remember to cover those sneezes and coughs. The flu virus hitting eastern Canada could still bring a late winter peak in flu activity here.
— image credit: File

Flu season has been mild so far in B.C. but health authorities warn it may not stay that way.

The influenza virus hitting eastern Canada hard may be felt more strongly here in the weeks ahead.

"The winter is long and the risk is not yet over," said Dr. Danuta Skowronski, physician epidemiologist at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

"It would be wise to learn from the experience in eastern Canada and prepare for that now, because the same could still happen here."

Influenza season typically spans November to April and the peak can happen any time during that period.

There's still time to get immunized even though it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect.

Flu shots are still available through public health units, doctors' offices and pharmacists.

"We are carefully watching other parts of the country," added Fraser Health spokesperson Joan Marshall.

This year's vaccine does cover the H3N2 strain spreading in eastern Canada.

The flu vaccine is recommended and free for the elderly, very young children, and people of all ages with chronic medical conditions as they are at highest risk of

hospitalization and death due to complications from influenza.

The province expanded Pharmacare coverage in December to include two brands of antiviral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza.

They're now covered for people at high risk of complications and who have flu symptoms during the 2010-11 flu season, as well as all residents at long-term care homes.

Most young healthy people recover from the flu without difficulty, but those at high risk may be helped with antivirals, which work best if taken at the first sign of symptoms appearing.

As a result, authorities advise that those at high risk have a plan in place for early treatment ahead of time.

The flu is potentially a serious respiratory illness and comes on suddenly with fever and cough as well as general aches and fatigue.

Frequent hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes is advised to keep the virus from spreading.

There's been little sign in B.C. this winter of the the H1N1 flu virus that triggered a mass immunization campaign a year ago.

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