Influenza (also known as 'flu') is a highly contagious illness caused by the influenza virus. It can spread quickly when large numbers of people are in close contact, such as at school, childcare centres, and social gatherings.

Get an influenza vaccine (flu shot)

Influenza can cause serious illness in children aged 5 and under, and particularly those under 2 years. Children under 5 years are most likely to spread influenza and suffer complications.

Some people are eligible for a ​free flu shot because they are at greater risk of severe illness from flu. This includes:

  • children from 6 months to under 5 years of age
  • people aged 6 months and older with serious health conditions (including severe asthma, diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, obesity, kidney, heart, lung or liver disease)
  • pregnant women
  • Aboriginal people aged 6 months and over
  • people who are 65 years of age and over.

Vaccinations are available from your doctor, local pharmacies or Aboriginal Medical Service. Pharmacists can administer the flu shot to children aged 5 and over. Parents with children aged under 5 years should see their doctor.

Please note: some providers may charge an administration or consultation fee. Ask your doctor, pharmacist or Aboriginal Medical Service if this applies to you.

If you are not eligible for a free flu shot, your doctor or pharmacist will charge you a small fee. The fee may vary between providers.

Stay home when sick

Keep sick children away from school, childcare and other activities.

If your child has flu symptoms such as a fever, cough, noisy breathing, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, fatigue or nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea, keep them at home and avoid close contact with other people to prevent others from also becoming sick.

Keep your child at home until they are well and their fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine, like paracetamol. If your child has a confirmed diagnosis of influenza from a doctor, your child may remain infectious for at least 10 days.

This is especially important if you visit people who are at higher risk of severe illness from influenza - including pregnant women, young infants, older people or people in hospital or residential care facilities.

Start antiviral medicines early if you are eligible

People at higher risk of severe illness from flu may be eligible for antiviral medicines such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu®). Speak with your doctor to see if your child is eligible. This may be provided as a capsule or liquid that is taken by mouth. If your child cannot swallow a capsule you can open the capsule and mix the contents with water for your child to drink. Speak with your pharmacist for further advice on how to do this safely. See the influenza fact sheet for more information.

Practice healthy hygiene

To protect yourself and others from flu, you can do the following:

  • Stay at home if you’re sick with cold and flu symptoms. If you need to leave home when you are sick, wear a mask and avoid contact with people at higher risk of severe illness.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick. Wear a mask if you are unable to physically distance from other people in crowded indoor spaces.
  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water and wash for 20 seconds. When you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, especially after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces particularly when people are sick.

Frequently asked questions

  • Talk to your doctor early if you are worried about your child's illness.

    Most children can be managed safely at home. For more information see the influenza fact sheet.

    If your child is younger than 5 years (and especially younger than 2 years) or of any age with a pre-existing health condition (like asthma, a neurological condition, a heart condition or diabetes) and develops influenza-like symptoms, they may be more likely to become unwell from influenza. Talk to your doctor for further advice.

  • Monitor your child for the following warning signs and if they occur, seek immediate medical advice or call triple zero (000) for an ambulance

    • fast breathing or trouble breathing 
    • bluish or grey skin colour 
    • not drinking enough fluids (and not passing as much urine as they normally do) 
    • severe or persistent vomiting 
    • not waking up or not interacting 
    • being irritable, dizzy or confused  
    • influenza-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and difficulty breathing
    • fever with a rash.
    • Talk to your doctor early if you are worried about your child's illness.
    • Health advice and information is also available via the free Healthdirect Australia service, staffed by registered nurses 24-hours a day, on 1800 022 222.
    • Visit the Raising Children Network for additional resources for parents and carers on how to keep their children healthy
    • Read more about the immunisation initiative or refer to the information below for evidence based resources on influenza vaccination for young children.

Current as at: Tuesday 20 June 2023
Contact page owner: Communicable Diseases