Nova Scotians can get their free flu vaccine beginning today, Oct. 14. This is the first year that the vaccine will be free for everyone. Health Promotion and Protection Minister Maureen MacDonald and chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang are encouraging everyone to be immunized. “Providing a free flu shot is the right decision to support better health care for families in every region,” said Ms. MacDonald. “This investment will help keep people well and is part of our overall plan to reduce pressure on our emergency rooms.” “Every year, influenza creates a burden on our population, our workplaces and our health care system,” said Dr. Strang. “This burden was particularly felt last year during H1N1. But the flu can be prevented safely and easily by getting immunized.” The H1N1 strain will be part of this year’s seasonal flu vaccine. The flu shot will be offered through doctors’ offices, workplace clinics and public health clinics. Jim Nickle, who volunteers three days a week at the IWK Health Centre, understands the value of flu immunization. He comes in close contact with patients and their families as they visit the hospital. “As a senior and as someone who volunteers in a health-care setting, I know the importance of getting my flu shot,” said Mr. Nickle. “By getting immunized, I am looking after my own health and the well-being of those around me.” Certain risk groups are especially encouraged to receive the influenza vaccine. These include: Flu symptoms usually include a sudden high fever, headache, general aches and pains, fatigue and weakness, a runny, stuffy nose, sneezing and sore throat. Proper hygiene, such as handwashing and covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, are also important to prevent the spread of influenza and many other infections. People with flu symptoms should stay home and minimize close contact with others. The typical flu season in Nova Scotia runs from November to April. Government expects to invest between $1.2 to $1.4 million in the immunization program. For more information on the flu, visit www.gov.ns.ca/hpp/flu People over 65 years of age People of any age who are residents of long-term and other chronic care facilities Adults and children with chronic health conditions Children and adolescents (age 6 months to 18 years) with conditions treated for long periods with acetylsalicylic acid; Adults and children with any condition that can compromise respiratory function or that can increase the risk of aspiration All children between 6 months and 5 years of age All pregnant women People who live with or care for someone in one of the above groups Health Care Workers and Health Care Worker students First responders such are firefighters and police People living on First Nations communities People living in a home where a newborn is expected during the regular influenza season, usually November to April.