12/30/2011 09:23 EST | Updated 02/29/2012 05:12 EST

Flu strain could hit B.C. seniors hard

A new strain of influenza is expected to sweep across B.C. this winter and it’s a virus that might be particularly dangerous for the elderly.

The strain is called H3N2.

"We know from the past that older adults are more likely to get more severe illness if they get sick with the H3N2,” Dr. Bonnie Henry of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control told CBC News. “So, it is more of a risk of having more of a severe illness or complications for older people."

Henry said seniors had some built-in immunity to the dominant strain of the past two years, H1N1, but that’s not the case with H3N2.

Fortunately, public health officials were expecting H3N2 this winter.

“The really important thing is that what we're seeing circulate right now [are] strains that are in the vaccine, so it's not too late to protect yourself by getting immunized,” said Henry.

Free to high-risk groups

B.C. offers free flu shots to people in high risk groups and to anyone who takes care of them in close contact.

Children six months to two years old also qualify, as do people with chronic health conditions.

Health care workers are strongly encouraged to get the shots, although last year only about 40 per cent did.

If you're not in one of the high risk groups or your employer doesn’t offer a free clinic, you can still get a flu shot if you pay for it yourself.

Family physicians and many pharmacies offer the vaccine and will inject it, by appointment, for about $30.