TORONTO - Ontario is preparing for a different kind of flu season, but health officials don't currently expect the amount of pandemic flu activity to overwhelm health systems, the province's chief medical officer of health said Thursday.

Dr. Arlene King suggested the fact that Southern Hemisphere countries have been able to cope with the burden of novel H1N1 cases is reassuring, but only time will tell what the virus has in store for the Northern Hemisphere.

"In terms of what we'll see in the fall, I don't have a crystal ball and no one else does. And we need to be prepared for potentially less than normal flu activity, about the same or possibly somewhat worse," she said at a news conference.

"And so what we're planning for is a somewhat worse or busier than usual flu season based on what we've seen in the Southern Hemisphere."

King released a report on the virus and Ontario's readiness efforts in an effort to put the situation in context. She spoke of wanting to bring balance to the discussion about the pandemic virus.

The new H1N1 strain is just another influenza virus and people shouldn't live in fear of it, King insisted. But they should take measures to curb spread of the flu, like staying home when they are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and washing their hands often.

King said seasonal flu vaccine campaigns will probably start in late September and early October, to be followed by pandemic vaccine clinics when that vaccine is available.

Federal, provincial and territorial officials are in the process of drawing up priority lists for pandemic vaccine for the period when limited amounts of vaccine are available.

King said discussions are focusing on putting at the front of the line pregnant women, health-care workers, people living in northern and remote communities and people under age 65 with chronic health conditions.

"Those are the kinds of groups that we're discussing right now who may well be ones that are eligible for the H1N1 vaccine first," she said, adding, though, that there will be enough vaccine eventually for anyone who wants it.

She said a poll done for Ontario suggested that if the flu season were worse than expected, about 58 per cent of Ontario residents would want pandemic flu vaccine.

A Canadian Press-Harris Decima poll released earlier this week found that only 45 per cent of Ontarians planned to take the shot when asked about it roughly two weeks ago.

King said rates of people willing to be vaccinated could alter, depending on the public's perception of the risk posed by the virus.

She also noted that the province is looking into alternative ways to disseminate antiviral drugs in case doctors' offices and emergency rooms become swamped. Local health authorities are being asked to do this planning, she said, noting options could include special flu assessment clinics in community centres or designated doctors' offices.