The flu is caused by the influenza virus. There are many different strains and they can change every year.
The flu has different complications than the common cold and can lead to other health concerns for those infected including:
More common side effects
- ear infections
Other health complications
- heart and other organ damage
- brain inflammation and brain damage
The flu is easily spread from person to person. Most infections happen in winter.
- Runny nose or sneezing.
- Cough or sore throat.
- Fever and chills.
- Body aches.
- Vomiting and diarrhoea (more common in children).
Symptoms usually start about one to three days after catching the flu and can last for a week or more. Some people can be mildly affected, while others can become seriously ill.
A common cold is not the same as the flu, although some of the symptoms are similar.
The flu can affect people of all ages.
People at highest risk of being hospitalised with flu are:
- people more than 65 years old
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- pregnant women
- people with long-term medical conditions
- people who have weakened immune systems
- people who are obese
- people who smoke
- people who haven’t been vaccinated against the flu.
Long-term medical conditions that can lead to you having a serious case of the flu include:
- heart disease
- lung disease
- nervous system conditions like multiple sclerosis
- liver and kidney disease
- blood diseases.
The flu is easily spread and very infectious, and occurs:
- when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and you breathe it in
- through direct contact with fluid from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes
- by touching a contaminated surface with the flu virus on it, and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose.
The flu spreads easily through families, workplaces, childcare centres, and schools.
If you have the flu, you can help stop the disease spreading by:
- staying away from childcare, school, work or other places where they could spread the infection until you are well
- covering your coughs and sneezes
- washing your hands often.
Annual influenza vaccination is the most important way to prevent influenza and its complications.
Annual vaccination is recommended for anyone aged six months and over who wishes to reduce the risk of influenza.
Every year the influenza vaccine changes to match the influenza virus that is most likely to be around during the influenza season. Getting vaccinated every year is the best way of preventing influenza.
Getting vaccinated from April gives people the best protection ready for the peak influenza period, from around June to September.
Influenza vaccines are available from GPs, pharmacies, community health clinics, and Aboriginal Medical Services (AMSs).
NQPHN encourages the community to take control of their health and ensure they are up to date with their vaccinations so they have the best protection possible against preventable disease.
Free vaccines available for at risk groups
Influenza vaccines are funded on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) in 2019 for the following groups due to their increased risk of complications from influenza:
- all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and over
- pregnant women (during any stage of pregnancy)
- all people aged 65 years and over
- people aged six months and over with certain medical conditions which increase their risk of complications from influenza.
The influenza vaccine given in pregnancy protects pregnant women and their babies during their first months of life when babies are most likely to be seriously affected by influenza and are too young to get vaccinated themselves.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can get the influenza vaccine for free from six months of age.
If you are not eligible for a free flu shot, you can still get vaccinated at your GP or pharmacy. The cost varies depending on your provider, however getting vaccinated at a pharmacy costs on average around $20.
If you choose to get vaccinated at your GP, you may also need to pay a consultation fee. Contact your GP to find out about their bulk-billing options for flu vaccinations.
How does it work?
Influenza vaccines available in Australia are given as a needle. It is important to get the right vaccine for your age. Your immunisation provider can tell you which vaccine they will use for you or your child’s influenza immunisation.
Before receiving the vaccine, you will need to fill out a pre-immunisation check list. Make sure that you tell your doctor or nurse if you (or your child):
- are unwell (have a temperature over 38.5°C)
- have allergies to any other medications or substances
- have had a serious reaction to any vaccine
- have had a serious reaction to any component of the vaccine
- have had a severe allergy to anything
- are under six months of age
- have had Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Possible side effects
Side effects from the vaccine do exist, but the side effects of the virus are considerably higher and have great consequences.
Common side effects of influenza vaccine include:
- pain, redness, swelling, or hardness where the needle went in
- fever, tiredness, body aches – these are rare, but they can occur.
A rare side effect is that you could experience an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to any vaccine. This is why you’ll be advised to stay at the clinic or medical surgery for a period following the vaccination.
Can you catch the flu even after vaccinations?
Yes, but the severity of the symptoms are usually less. Vaccination usually takes up to two weeks to be effective. If you have been vaccinated against the flu and you happen to catch the flu, you usually experience a less severe illness and may be less likely to develop other health complications from the flu.
Can I catch the flu from the flu vaccine?
No. The flu vaccine definitely does not give you the flu, nor does it give you a little bit of the (live) influenza virus. All influenza vaccines used in Australia are made from the deactivated ‘shell’ of the flu virus.
Benefits of getting vaccinated
Immunisation is a simple, safe, and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases before they come into contact with them.
Immunisation is a safe and effective way of providing protection against preventable disease for individuals and the wider community by increasing immune system strength to more quickly fight against bacteria and viruses.
Getting vaccinated against the flu can also help to ease the strain on hospital emergency departments.
If you have a health concern one easy way to gain a better understanding is to use the Health Direct Symptom Checker.
Your doctor can diagnose the flu by:
- checking your symptoms
- asking if you’ve been in contact with someone who has the flu
- swabbing your nose or throat or taking a blood sample to test for the virus.
If you have influenza your doctor may be required to notify your state or territory health department.
Mild flu gets better on its own without any treatment.
You can relieve the symptoms by:
- resting – stay home from work
- drinking fluids, particularly water
- taking paracetamol to reduce pain and fever
- using decongestant medicines.
If diagnosed, you may be given medicines which if given early can help shorten how long illness lasts.
Antibiotics should not be used to treat colds or the flu, which are viral — not bacterial — infections.
People with a serious case of the flu may need to go to hospital. Even with treatment, some people with severe flu may die.
People should seek medical advice if you experience:
- difficulty breathing
- shortness of breath
- chest pain or severe abdominal pain
- sudden dizziness
- severe vomiting or vomiting that won’t stop.
If you’re getting concerned about your health, talk to your GP.
Call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for free 24-hour assistance from a registered nurse.
A pharmacist can also help with medications that will aid symptoms like body pain or a cough.
If you’re feeling really unwell, call triple zero (000) for assistance.