What is influenza?
Who is most at risk of getting the flu?
What are the symptoms?
How does flu spread?
What is influenza vaccination?
Why is vaccination important?
Where can I be vaccinated against flu?
Is the flu vaccine free?
What should I do if I feel sick?
How can I prevent getting influenza?

What is influenza?

Influenza is caused by infection with an influenza virus. The main viruses that cause influenza are influenza A and influenza B. Each of these have different strains. It maily affects the throat and lungs, but can also cause problems with the heart and the rest of the body, especially in elderly people with other health problems. Influenza makes people quite unwell, and is different to a severe cold which people often mistakenly call the "flu".

Who is most at risk of getting the flu?

Every year people in certain high risk groups are more likely to be impacted by seasonal flu than others.

It is particularly important for people at increased risk of severe illness from influenza to be vaccinated against influenza and to seek medical attention early if they develop symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

Flu can produce symptoms of fever, chills, cough, sore throat, tiredness and muscle aches, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea. Severe case of flu can result in breathing difficulty and pneumonia. Symptoms generally appear between two to four days after exposure. If you develop these symptoms you should stay at home and avoid close contact with others until your symptoms are gone.

If you have trouble breathing, go to a hospital Emergency Department or call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

If you need medical advice call your GP, or healthdirect on 1800 022 222

How does flu spread?

Flu is spread by viruses floating in tiny droplets from a sick person's cough or sneeze. It is also spread when those droplets from a sick person land on a surface or object which is then touched by someone else who picks up the virus on their hands. The flu is not spread through air conditioning or ventilation systems.

What is influenza vaccination?

Vaccination (or immunisation) means becoming protected from a disease as a result of receiving a vaccine.

When you are vaccinated, a tiny part of a disease or germ (that is weak or dead and cannot infect you with the real disease) enters your body (usually either through injection or orally) and triggers your body's defence system to create antibodies. The antibodies remember what these germs look like and can kill this type of germ if you are exposed to it in the future.

Because the flu vaccine doesn't contain a whole flu virus it can't give you flu, nor can you pass on the disease because of the vaccination.

Why is vaccination important?

Vaccination prevents people from becoming infected with diseases. This means there is less disease circulating in the community which not only protects you, but can help protect those around you who are not able to be vaccinated, such as infants under 6 months of age.

Every year a new seasonal flu vaccine is developed. It protects against the four types of flu that are expected to be the most common that flu season (winter). The seasonal flu vaccine is now available in Australia. It protects against the H1N1 pandemic strain, an H3N2 strain and two influenza B strains.

Where can I be vaccinated against flu?

Vaccinations are available from your general practitioner, some local pharmacies or Aboriginal Medical Service. We recommend you call ahead to make sure your practice is vaccinating on the day you want to visit.

If you are not able to access your GP, local pharmacy or AMS and wish to be vaccinated, contact your local public health unit for advice.

Hospitals and other health services (eg renal dialysis clinics or antenatal clinics) may also offer flu vaccination to in-patients and out-patients that are more likely to become really sick with flu.

Is the flu vaccine free?

The seasonal flu vaccine is free for some groups of people who have been identified as part of a national program.

The NSW Health Immunisation Unit has more information about the seasonal flu vaccine.

What should I do if I feel sick?

If you are having trouble breathing, go to a hospital Emergency Department or call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

If you are more likely to become really sick from flu, you should speak to your doctor as soon as you start to feel sick. There is medication that can reduce the effects and duration of flu but it works best if started early.

If you are not in a high-risk group, talk to your doctor if you feel moderately or very unwell. If you are only mildly unwell, you can probably take care of yourself at home.

If you need medical advice, call your GP or healthdirect on 1800 022 222.

How can I prevent getting influenza?

Practice good hygiene

Hand hygiene

  • Ensure soap and disposable towels are near sinks for hand washing.
  • Consider having dispensers of alcohol-based hand cleanser in the home.

Tissues

  • Have a supply of disposable tissues available.

Crockery and other eating utensils

  • Crockery and other eating utensils used by someone sick with flu should not be shared with other members of the household, until washed.
  • Household gloves should be worn by other members of the household if touching the sick person's used crockery or utensils.
  • Used crockery and utensils should be washed as usual either in a dishwasher or by hand with warm water and detergent. Once washed, they may be used by others.

Laundry - Towels, bedding and clothing

  • Towels, bedding and clothing used by a person sick with flu should not be shared. These may be washed as usual in a washing machine with warm water and detergent.
  • Household gloves should be worn by other members of your household when they are touching linen and clothing used by someone sick with flu.
  • To avoid spreading germs, soiled laundry should not be shaken.
  • After laundry has been washed and cleaned it may be used by others.

Cleaning the house

  • Commonly touched surfaces such as taps, doorknobs, tables, kettle handles and the fridge door handle should be cleaned frequently with normal household detergent.
  • Clean the bathroom and toilet regularly.

The home should be kept well ventilated with doors and/or windows open during the day, if possible and if safe to do so.

Hand washing and cough etiquette posters are available.

Get vaccinated

Getting vaccinated against flu greatly reduces the chance that you will be infected by a flu virus.

The NSW Health Immunisation Unit has more information about the seasonal flu vaccine.

Avoid close contact with sick people

If you are sick with flu, you should avoid close contact with other people to prevent them from also becoming sick. The opposite advice also applies - avoid close contact with sick people to avoid catching the flu yourself.

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Page Updated: Thursday 12 May 2016