Does your medical condition put you at greater risk of severe flu?

Flu (influenza) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Most people recover after a few days but for some people it can lead to a severe and life-threatening illness. An estimated 800 people in NSW die each year from flu-related illnesses.

People with the following medical conditions are at greater risk of severe flu:

  • cardiac disease, including cyanotic congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure
  • chronic respiratory conditions, including suppurative lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and severe asthma
  • other chronic illnesses requiring regular medical follow up or hospitalisation in the previous year, including diabetes mellitus, chronic metabolic diseases, chronic renal failure, and haemoglobinopathies
  • chronic neurological conditions that impact on respiratory function, including multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, and seizure disorders
  • impaired immunity, including HIV, malignancy and chronic steroid use.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) advice for immunisation providers regarding the administration of seasonal influenza vaccines in 2017 includes further information on at-risk groups.

Annual flu shots are the best way to prevent flu

All people in the above medically at-risk groups are strongly recommended to have an annual flu shot which is provided free for them under the National Immunisation Program.

To access a free flu shot they should make an appointment with your their GP. Flu shots are also now available from many pharmacies but these are not provided for free.

Other things to help prevent flu this winter

Some simple measures can reduce your risk of contracting and spreading flu as well as Colds and other respiratory viruses this winter. These include:

  • avoiding crowded places when flu is around
  • covering your face with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
    If you don't have a tissue then using your elbow is better than using your hands.
  • throwing away used tissues in a bin right away
  • washing your hands thoroughly and often.

What should I do if I get sick?

Most people with the flu have a mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral medicines. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.

However, if you have symptoms of flu and are in a medically at-risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your local doctor immediately. Specific antiviral medicines for flu infections are available but these should be started within 48 hours of the symptoms starting.


A range of influenza resources are available either to download or order through the Better Health Centre. Please see our Influenza resources page​.

Page Updated: Wednesday 10 May 2017