It's that time of year again when it gets dark early and people start missing work and school because of the flu.
To help prevent the spread of influenza, the Fraser Health Authority is reminding residents the flu shot is free for those at highest risk of severe illness and those who are their close contacts or caregivers.
New for this year, healthy children between the ages of six months and five years, and their contacts and caregivers, are also eligible for the free vaccine.
"The flu season really gets going in November and December, so we urge everyone to get the vaccine as soon as it's available," said chief medical health officer Paul Van Buynder, in a recent press release, noting it takes between 10 and 14 days for the vaccine to become effective.
The health authority estimates between 10 and 25 per cent of the population is infected with the flu each year.
A person can have the flu virus without knowing it, however, and pass it to someone else who may become seriously ill.
About 200 to 300 people in the Fraser Health region - mainly seniors - die each year from flu-related complications, such as pneumonia.
"The influenza vaccine is the best protection against influenza illness and its complications and is a safe and effective way to help people stay healthy, prevent illness, and even save lives," Van Buynder noted.
Last year, Fraser Health supplied about 300,000 annual flu shots, and this year aims to deliver 365,000 vaccinations in the region.
Free shots are recommended and provided for the following groups: people age 65 and over and their caregivers, children and adults with chronic health conditions and their household contacts, healthy children ages six months to five years and their caregivers and contacts, aboriginal peoples, health-care workers, emergency responders, pregnant women who will be in their third trimester during flu season, residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities, owners and operators of poultry farms, people who are very overweight (body mass index higher than 40), corrections officers and inmates in provincial corrections facilities and those who provide care of service in potential outbreak settings such as crew on ships.
There are several upcoming free flu shot clinics scheduled in Burnaby at various locations this month with more coming up in December and January.
For a complete list of dates and locations, visit www.fraserhealth.ca or visit www. health.gov.bc.ca/flu.
Residents should bring their care card or other government I.D. (such as a valid driver's licence) and wear a short-sleeved shirt.