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Public health experts advise getting flu shots before season starts

Doctor's offices and pharmacists ready for flu season jabs

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With the ski season just around the corner, Whistlerites are bringing out their skis and snowboards and throwing on a fresh coat of wax.

Public heath officers, meanwhile, are encouraging the public to adopt an additional pre-winter tradition: Getting a flu shot.

"I recommend that people get out and get immunized in order to A), protect themselves from getting sick and B), to protect their loved ones from getting sick," said Dr. Meena Dawar, head of immunization programs for Vancouver Coastal Health.

The flu and related complications kill an estimated 3,500 Canadians a year, according to B.C.'s Ministry of Health.

That's more than any other vaccine-preventable disease.

In Whistler, people can get a flu shot at Shoppers Drug Mart, Rexall, walk-in clinics, or their doctor's office. Some businesses offer free vaccine clinics at the workplace as well.

Many qualify for free flu shots, including seniors, children between six months and five years old, and pregnant women, Aboriginal people, and those with chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems. The vaccine is also free for anyone who lives or works with a person who is at higher risk of problems from the flu.

"It's safe, recommended for everybody, and it's provided free for almost everybody," said Dawar.

"So it's important that people get out and speak to their doctor or pharmacist to see if they can get a flu shot."

B.C.'s pharmacists began giving flu shots several years ago. And according to Lynnette Chiu, manager of Rexall's Marketplace location, it's a popular — and quick — service.

"It's first-come, first-serve. It only takes about 10 to 15 minutes," said Chiu.

For many seasonal employees, getting a flu shot is especially important, she said.

"A lot of people here can't afford to take two weeks off," she said.

Chiu added that because Whistler is a magnet for international travellers and workers, residents are exposed to many different types of influenza viruses.

"You're more likely to be exposed to the flu virus here in Whistler," she said.

Symptoms include fevers, headaches, muscle pain, and runny noses, and are more severe than those associated with a run-of-the-mill cold.

The symptoms generally last between seven and 10 days.

When an influenza vaccine is well matched with circulating viruses, it is thought to be effective in 60 to 80 per cent of adults and children.

"Influenza is pretty severe. It's like being run over by a small truck — for those of us who are healthy. And for those who have underlying health conditions, it's much worse," said Dawar.

In other words, get vaccinated — or risk missing the pow.

Get your flu shots here (drop-ins welcome), or at your doctor's office:

•Shoppers Drug Mart on Blackcomb Way 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

• Rexall Pharmacy in Village Square 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

• Rexall Drug Store in Whistler Marketplace from 9 a.m to 7 p.m. daily.

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