A happy, older woman walking through a forest.

More common in winter, the flu is a highly contagious infection that can affect anyone but poses greater risk of complication in certain groups of people. Flu vaccines are available and recommended every year to reduce your risk of catching the flu.

Did you know?

  • The flu viruses change constantly, which is why outbreaks occur every year.
  • Flu outbreaks usually occur during winter.
  • It is estimated that flu contributes to over 3,000 deaths in Australia each year.1
A young girl riding around on her pink, three wheeled scooter.

What is it?

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is usually caused by two kinds of viruses: Influenza A and Influenza B. Both viruses change all the time, which is why there are flu outbreaks every year.

The flu can cause mild to severe illness, and sometimes death.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, headache, cough, sneezing, a runny nose, poor appetite, tiredness and muscle aches. These symptoms usually come on quickly.

Children can get even higher temperatures, causing increased risk of convulsions (or fits).

For some people, having the flu could lead to more serious conditions like bronchitis (inflammation of the lungs), pneumonia (lung infection), or problems with the heart, blood system and liver.

This is not a full list of symptoms, please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about the flu.

How is it spread?

While it can happen any time, it's more common to catch the flu in the colder months of the year (June to September). Flu can be spread from person to person through the air, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread by direct contact with a person who has the flu or an object that a person with the flu has touched.

Once a person has the flu, they can spread it to other people from the day before their first symptoms appear and up to five days after their symptoms stop.

Who is at risk?

Flu can affect anyone, even healthy people. Yet it can be worse with higher risk of complication for:

  • people aged 65 and over
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • pregnant women
  • those with certain medical conditions, such as heart problems, asthma or lung problems, kidney problems, blood or metabolic diseases (such as diabetes), or weakened immune systems.

Other people may be at risk of the flu. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances.

Who should be vaccinated?

  • The flu vaccine is recommended every year for all people aged 6 months and over. The flu vaccine is provided free as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP) to infants and children aged 6 months or older who have medical conditions that put them at greater risk of complications, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 6 months to under 5 years and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years or over.

    Immunisation schedule

    •  Immunisation recommended by experts but is not funded
    •  Immunisation funded via the NIP for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and/or medically at-risk children
    Diseases Birth 2 months 4 months 6 months 12 months 18 months 4 years 10 to <15 years 15-19 years
    Chickenpox (varicella)+                  
    A second dose of varicella vaccine is recommended any time between 4 years of age and less than 14 years, at least 4 weeks after the first dose. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Diphtheria                  
     
    Hepatitis A+                  
    Two doses of Hepatitis A vaccine are recommended and NIP-funded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at 12 months and 18 months living in certain areas. A two-dose schedule (which is not funded) is also recommended for some medically at-risk children and adolescents. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Hepatitis B+                  
    An additional booster vaccine is recommended at 12 months of age for preterm infants who were born at less than 32 weeks gestation or whose birth weight was under 2000 grams. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Haemophilus influenzae
    type b (Hib)
                     
     
    Human Papillomavirus (HPV)                  
     
    Measles                  
     
    Meningococcal ACWY disease+                  
    The meningococcal ACWY vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. A free dose is given at 12 months of age. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Meningococcal B disease+                  
    The meningococcal B vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Mumps                  
     
    Pneumococcal disease+                  
    An additional dose of pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and NIP-funded at 6 months of age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Two additional doses (at 6 months and 4 years) are recommended and NIP-funded for medically-at risk children. Further doses may be recommended and funded during adolescence depending on risk – speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Polio                  
     
    Rotavirus                  
     
    Rubella                  
     
    Tetanus                  
     
    Whooping cough (pertussis)                  
     
    Annual flu+      
     

     

     

     

     

     
    The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all people aged 6 months and over. Influenza vaccine is funded under the NIP for those at or above 6 months of age with certain medical conditions and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months to under 5 years and those aged at or above 15 years. Learn more about who should receive flu vaccination.
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  • The flu vaccine is recommended annually for all adults and is funded for pregnant women (during any stage of pregnancy), people aged 65 and over, people with certain medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    Immunisation schedule

    •  Immunisation funded via the National Immunisation Program (NIP)
    •  Immunisation may be recommended by experts but is not funded
    Diseases All adults Planning for a baby Pregnancy 65 and over 70 to 79 years Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander adults
    Chickenpox (varicella)            
     
    Diphtheria            
     
    Hepatitis B            
     
    Measles            
     
    Meningococcal ACWY disease            
     
    Meningococcal B disease            
     
    Mumps            
     
    Pneumococcal disease+            
    Pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and funded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at 50 years of age, with a second dose recommended five years later. All non-Indigenous people can receive a free vaccine at 65 years of age. Women planning pregnancy who have risk factors for pneumococcal disease, including smokers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, should be assessed for pneumococcal vaccination.
    Rubella            
     
    Shingles (Herpes zoster)+            
    The herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine is funded for adults aged 70 years, with a short-term catch-up program for adults aged 71-79. It is also recommended (but not funded) for all adults over 60 years of age.
    Tetanus            
     
    Whooping cough (pertussis)            
     
    Annual flu+            
    The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all adults, and is funded for pregnant women (during any stage of pregnancy), people aged 65 and over, people with certain medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
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  • The flu vaccine is recommended for people travelling during the colder months of the year.

    It is important to plan ahead and see your doctor at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss immunisation and travel health.

Treatment

Antiviral medicines (which fight against viral infections) can be used to treat the flu. These are different from antibiotics (which fight against bacterial infections).

Antiviral medicines can help to reduce symptoms and decrease the amount of time you are sick by one or two days. They can also help to prevent serious complications from the flu, like pneumonia.

If your flu is not severe, treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and can include bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking paracetamol to help reduce pain and fever.

Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about flu treatment.

Important information

For further information about flu immunisation in your area, speak to your doctor. 

Some side effects may be experienced following immunisation. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your doctor.

References

  1. Flu (Influenza), Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/flu-influenza (accessed October 2018)

AUS/VAC/0076/18 Date of Approval November 2018