Influenza or ‘the flu’ is a vaccine preventable viral illness that mainly affects the respiratory system.
Influenza is caused by influenza viruses, spread mainly through sneezing and coughing. Transmission can also spread from touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the nose, mouth or eyes. People with influenza can be infectious 1 day before symptoms begin until 1 week after start of symptoms. In most people, symptoms normally last 5 to 8 days.
Everyone can get influenza, with a higher percentage of between 10 - 40% of children getting infected yearly. In the community, the flu typically infect up to 10% of people and can be up to 20% in some years.
Influenza spreads easily where large numbers of people gathers. As such, infection rates can be up to 2 to 3 times higher in certain populations e.g. childcare centres, aged care facilities and infections within households.
Therefore the flu is highly contagious. It can cause very serious illness, hospitalisation and even death in otherwise healthy people. It is especially serious for babies, people aged over 65 years, people with underlying medical conditions and pregnant women.
Common symptoms are:
Complications include pneumonia, myocarditis (inflamed heart muscles) and neurological complications, which can lead to hospitalisation and death.
Immunisation is a safe and effective way to help protect you from the flu. By being immunised, you also help protect those that are too ill or too young to be immunised and help slow the spread of the disease.
It is important to get the flu vaccine every year. The virus strains that cause the flu change each year and the vaccine changes each year to match these strains.
Treatment of influenza, including bed rest, pain relief such as aspirin/paracetamol and fluid intake, and generally to minimise symptoms. Children and adolescents aged under 16 years must not be given aspirin or aspirin-containing medications while sick with influenza because of an increased risk of Reye syndrome (a condition that causes liver and brain swelling).
Antiviral medications can help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms of influenza. To be most effective, they need to be given within 48 hours of onset of symptoms.
Vaccination is the only way to specifically prevent influenza infection and its complications.
Practising cough etiquette (such as covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing) and washing hands before eating can help reduce the chances of getting and passing on the influenza virus.
People who are sick with influenza should stay home, isolating and reduce transmission risks with other people.
Annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all people aged ≥6 months unless contraindicated.
Who should get a flu shot?
Annual immunisation against the flu is recommended for everyone over 6 months of age.
Who is eligible for a free flu shot?
The Australian Government's National Immunisation Program provides a free flu vaccine to eligible people, including:
What is the recommended timing of administering influenza and COVID-19 vaccines?
Current advice is that there has to be a 14 days period between the flu and COVID-19 vaccine.
People in phase 1a of the COVID-19 vaccination program should receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available to them, and then receive their influenza vaccine at least 14 days later.
People in later phases of the COVID-19 vaccination program should receive their influenza vaccine as soon as it is available, and then receive their COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them, at least 14 days later.