With the beginning of flu season underway, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's lead researcher, Dr. Danuta Skowronski, says her main emphasis is on people at the highest risk for influenza complications.

Skowronski says, for that group, "the vaccine could be life-saving."

"That means the elderly, people with underlying medical conditions, especially heart and lung conditions, they don't handle influenza viruses well at all," she said and included caregivers and those with immune-compromising conditions like cancer.

"Other conditions that make them already frail and vulnerable, they don't tolerate the assault of an influenza virus very well. They should get vaccinated," she said.

No one is invincible

Skowronski says no one should consider themselves invincible, but for those not at high risk, getting this year's flu vaccine is a matter of individual choice.

"If you are a young, healthy adult you may be in the range of five to 10 per cent (infection rate). That's like one infection every 10 to 20 years, and you are unlikely to die from it."

Health Canada estimates influenza causes more than 12,000 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada each year.

Prepare for back-to-back epidemics

Skowronski cautioned we should be prepared for another H3N2 epidemic like the one that hit last winter — because back-to-back epidemics can occur.

Low level, sporadic activity of H3N2 has been turning up since the summer — but Skowronski admits there is no way to accurately predict how severe this flu season will be.

H3N2 showing up on the island

On Vancouver Island, health officials there say the H3N2 strain is already making people sick.

"What they are reporting is a fairly severe year — definitely increases in the number of people becoming ill, as well as the use of health-care services,"  said Island Health Medical Health Officer Paul Hasselback.

"With that knowledge, and that strain circulating, we can make a fairly good prediction that we better be prepared this year," he said.

Influenza spreads easily through coughing and sneezing or by touching things that have been contaminated by the virus and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose.

Immunize B.C. says the vaccine prevents about 60 to 80 per cent of adults and children from getting influenza.

With files from Chek News