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Disease Information / Influenza


What is it

Influenza, or the flu, is caused by a highly contagious virus that infects your nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms develop quickly and last around one week. The flu is seasonal and in Australia tends to occur in the winter months. 1

Who is at risk and what are the symptoms

Everyone and anyone are at risk of catching the flu. The most common symptoms are high fever, sore throat, a dry cough, muscle aches and pains, tiredness, chills, headache and loss of appetite. Generally, symptoms tend to occur between one and three days after contact with the virus. The flu can cause more serious illnesses, like pneumonia, bronchitis and in severe cases, death. Pregnant women and those aged over 65 have increased risk of severe illness as a result of flu. Children can also be at higher risk of complications linked to the flu. 1,2

How is it spread

The flu spreads quickly from one person to the next via hand or body contact. It is also airborne, which means it can be passed in the air from someone who is coughing or sneezing.

How is it prevented

Vaccination is the single most effective way of protecting against influenza infection.3 Individuals and families should consider being vaccinated every year, including children from six months of age. The influenza virus changes all the time, so the vaccine from previous years won’t necessarily cover every strain of the virus that is circulating this year. Annual vaccination is particularly important for those planning a family or over the age of 65. Early autumn is the best time to get vaccinated against the flu, because it will help strengthen immunity before peak season. It is also important for everyone to take preventative measures on a day-to-day basis. People should always cover their face when coughing and sneezing. It is also recommended people sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, not directly onto hands, to prevent the spread of germs. Tissues should always be thrown into a rubbish bin after use. Hand washing is important too. Hands should always be washed with soap and water for between 10 and 30 seconds to help kill germs. Using an alcohol rub is also effective. If unwell with flu-like symptoms, it is advisable to stay at home to prevent the germs spreading in the workplace and the community.1,2

How is it diagnosed and treated

Flu is diagnosed by a doctor based on symptoms. Pregnant women, people aged over 65 and those with an existing medical condition should see a General Practitioner (GP) doctor to confirm the diagnosis. Early flu symptoms can be treated by antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours of symptoms. These drugs must be prescribed by a doctor. Otherwise, plenty of rest and fluids are the most common treatments for the flu. Paracetamol, or aspirin for adults, is advised to control fever and aches and pains. If symptoms worsen, particularly those linked to breathing, a doctor should be consulted. 4,5

Where to get help

Someone with flu-like symptoms should speak to a local GP for guidance on treatment. If you have questions about the flu vaccination, please speak with your GP to see whether vaccination is suitable for you.


  1. Immmunise Australia Program. Influenza fact sheet. Accessed March 2016
  2. Flusmart. Flu in children Available from: (Accessed March 2016)
  3. WHO Influenza factsheet.
  4. Health NSW Influenza:
  5. Better Health Victoria: