Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from person to person through coughing, sneezing and close contact.
Unlike a cold, symptoms such as fever, sore throat and muscle aches develop suddenly with flu and last about a week. In some cases, severe illness and complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis can develop, which can result in hospitalisation and even death. The flu can also make some existing medical conditions worse.
The flu virus can be especially dangerous for elderly people, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and very young children, as well as for people with underlying medical conditions.
Three different types of influenza viruses infect humans: influenza A, B and C. Only influenza A and B cause major outbreaks and severe disease, and these types are included in seasonal influenza vaccines. Influenza spreads from person to person through the air by coughing or sneezing, or by direct contact with the virus on hard surfaces or people’s hands. The flu usually differs from a cold as symptoms develop suddenly, and can lead to complications such as chest infections and pneumonia – particularly among the elderly and young children.
Flu symptoms tend to develop abruptly one to three days after infection, and can include: tiredness, high fever, chills, headache, coughing, sneezing, runny noses, poor appetite, and muscle aches. Most people who get the flu will suffer from mild illness and will recover in around four weeks. However, some people can develop more severe health problems, including pneumonia, bronchitis, chest and sinus infections, heart, blood system or liver complications, which can lead to hospitalisation and even death.
Annual vaccination is the best way of preventing the flu and any associated illness.
You should get the flu shot every year because the flu virus is constantly changing. Every year, the flu vaccine changes too, so it protects against the flu strains which are most likely to be around during that winter.
There is now evidence that the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine wanes over time and its important be protected when the flu is most common, around August. Ask your doctor for advice on the best time to receive your vaccination.
The 2017 flu shot will be available in April from GP surgeries and other immunisation providers.
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone from six months of age, but is available free under the National Immunisation Program for people who face a high risk from influenza and its complications. These are:
- People aged 65 years and over
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait people aged six months to less than five years
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are aged 15 years and over
- Pregnant women
- People aged six months and over with medical conditions such as severe asthma1, lung or heart disease, low immunity or diabetes that can lead to complications from influenza.
To receive your influenza vaccination, visit your local doctor or immunisation provider. It is important to note that while the vaccine is free, a consultation fee may apply.