Forty cases of the H1N1 strain of influenza have been reported in the Eastern Townships, and it may just be the beginning of the flu season.

Experts are predicting the flu will hit its peak in early February, giving the virus plenty of time to spread across Quebec.

Strains covered by the 2013-2014 flu vaccine

  • A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)
  • A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)
  • B/Massachusetts/2/2012

Dr. Danielle Auger of the Quebec health ministry said two million doses of the flu vaccine have been distributed in the province so far this year, but the ministry is not yet able to determine how many people in Quebec have actually received their flu shot.

However, in Sherbrooke in the Eastern Townships, more than 13,000 people have received the vaccine — about 4,450 more than last year. 

The H1N1 strain that has been circulating since the major outbreak in 2009 is included in the vaccine offered this year, says Health Minister Réjean Hébert.  

However, anyone who received the 2009 vaccine that year  and has not been vaccinated since no longer has the same degree of protection for H1N1, says Auger.

"It's always a good thing to get revaccinated," says Auger, "also, because the virus changes a little bit [each year.]"

So far this flu season, 15 people — mostly children and young adults — have died in Canada after contracting H1N1. 

Hébert is suggesting Quebecers get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"We must renew the call for the population to be vaccinated because it is the best way to prevent H1N1 and other strains. Remember that influenza is a deadly disease. Most people who die of the flu had it before," Hébert says.

H1N1, nicknamed "swine flu," was first discovered in 2009 and spread quickly throughout North America. The virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, infecting thousands of Canadians.

The Canadian government ordering 50 million doses of the vaccine, and more than 4.3 million Quebecers, or 57 per cent of the population, were vaccinated against the flu, said former health minister Yves Bolduc.

A recent outbreak of H1N1 in Alberta has killed five people so far, with 960 reported cases of infection. About 270 people have been hospitalized.