01/07/2014 08:33 EST | Updated 03/09/2014 05:59 EDT

Flu shots encouraged as H1N1 arrives in Quebec

Flu season is here and Quebec’s health minister is encouraging everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t done so already.

Forty cases of the H1N1 strain of influenza were reported in the Eastern Townships already and flu season is expected to hit its peak at the end of January or early February.

H1N1 is covered in this year’s flu vaccine. However, those vaccinated against H1N1 in 2009 are strongly encouraged to get a new shot with the updated vaccine, which addresses mutations in the virus.

Quebec Health Minister Réjean Hébert said this year’s strain of H1N1 is not more severe or virulent, but it is a virus that everyone should take very seriously.

“It is an important disease that can be fatal,” he told CBC Montreal Daybreak host Mike Finnerty Tuesday morning.

A recent outbreak of H1N1 in Alberta has killed 10 people so far and at least 960 cases of infection have been reported. About 300 people have been hospitalized.

Hébert encouraged all Quebecers to get vaccinated, especially those considered at higher risk of complications from the virus. These are:

- Children aged 6 to 23 months old.

- People with certain chronic illnesses such as asthma and emphysema.

- Pregnant women at any stage of their pregnancy, but particularly women in their second or third trimester.

- People aged 60 and over.

Vaccinations are free for those in the above groups. To get vaccinated, contact your local CLSC or visit your family doctor. Pharmacies can also provide a flu shot.

The website for Montreal's health authority says vaccinations are also recommended and given at no charge to people in close contact with any of the higher-risk groups, as well as to children under 6 months old and to healthcare workers.

Clinics will be held for children aged 0-5 at the CLSC des Faubourgs (Visitation) on Jan. 8 and the CLSC Saint-Louis-du-Parc on Jan. 17.

Hébert said there should be no wait time for those considered at higher risk. Any delays should be reported to their local health authority.

This year’s vaccine covers H1N1 and H2N3, the dominant flu virus from 2011 and 2012.

Strains covered by the 2013-2014 flu vaccine:

- A/California/7/2009 (H1N1).

- A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2).

- B/Massachusetts/2/2012.

Hébert said anyone experiencing symptoms including shortness of breath, severe headaches and high fever should visit their family doctor or a medical clinic. 

"If possible, try to avoid emergency rooms, where vulnerable people are at risk," he said.