The H1N1 flu virus is breaking out in Alberta and the Lower Mainland as the new year begins. The Canadian Press reports 965 confirmed cases of the flu in Alberta and 270 of those people are in hospital.In the Lower Mainland at least 20 people are in intensive care, some of them on ventilators, due to H1N1 influenza.In Alberta, the problem is magnified by the fact that only 21 per cent of the general public and 49 per cent of health-care workers have had flu shots. Alberta began offering mass immunization clinics in many communities last Friday. Dr. Sue Pollock, medical health officer for Interior Health, confirmed is seeing H1N1 across the province. “We are seeing increase in Influenza cases at this time, which is not unexpected given that we just had the holiday season, and there are a lot of social gatherings during that time,” Dr. Pollock said. In terms of preparation, Dr. Pollock said the virus has been circulating throughout the world since 2009. “It’s really become one of our seasonal flu viruses,” she said. “The good news is that the flu vaccine does provide protection against H1N1. The flu vaccine is still available for people to get and they can access that through their local pharmacist or by calling their local health units.”She said the heightened sense of concerns comes from the age groups that the virus is infecting. “Last year the predominant circulation strain was H3N2 and that strain was more likely to impact individuals over 65,” she explained. “With H1N1, what we’re finding is that young and middle age adults have less immunity to H1N1 than individuals over 65, so what we’re seeing is that the rate of acquisition and even some of the complications that we’d normally see in individuals over 65 is now being seen in the young and middle age groups.”In B.C. flu shots are mandatory for health-care workers. The general public does have a choice, but anyone visiting any type of health care facility must either wear a mask or produce proof of a flu shot.This year’s flu shot does contain a vaccine for the H1N1 strain, and if you haven’t had one yet, Public Health Nurse Terri Fergus at the Kimberley Health Centre says vaccines are still available.“No, it’s not too late to get a flu shot and yes, we still have vaccines available,” Fergus said.Fergus said that as far as she knows there is no shortage of the vaccine. If you qualify to receive a free shot (qualification details can be found at interiorhealth.ca), you can call the public health nurse in Kimberley (250-427-2215) or Cranbrook (250-420-2207) and arrange a time to get a shot. If you don’t qualify, many local pharmacies are still offering the shots.According to the Lung Association, H1N1, also know as the swine flu is a highly contagious virus that infects the breathing tubes in your nose, throat, and lungs.H1N1 flu symptoms are similar to regular seasonal flu symptoms: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, no appetite (don’t feel hungry), nausea, vomiting (throwing up) or diarrhea and a runny nose.For these symptoms, the best thing to do is stay home and take care of yourself while not infecting others. However, H1N1 can produce more dangerous symptoms, even in otherwise health young adults. In fact the Fraser Health Authority told CBC News that many of those in intensive care were otherwise healthy young adults.Warning signs of severe flu in children from www.lung.ca – get emergency help if kids show one or more of these signsfast breathing or trouble breathingskin is bluish or grayblue or grey lipsnot drinking enough fluids, hasn’t peed (passed urine) in many hours, or no tears when she crieslots of vomiting (throwing up)not waking up, not paying attention to anythingcranky, doesn’t want to be heldseizureschild’s flu symptoms improve but then come back; she has a fever and her cough is worseWarning signs of severe flu in adults – get emergency help right away if you have one or more of these signsit’s hard to breathe, you’re short of breathblue or grey lipspain or pressure in your chest or stomachsuddenly dizzyconfuseddehydrated, not peeing (no urine)lots of vomiting (throwing up)seizuresyour flu symptoms improve but then come back; your cough is worse and you have a fever.If you have these severe flu symptoms go to the emergency department right away or call 911 or your local emergency number.If you have asthma, COPD or another flu risk factor and you get flu symptoms, call your doctor right away.