Influenza, or flu, is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses.
The flu is more serious than a common cold. Each year, people in NSW die from flu related complications.
You can catch the flu at any time of the year but activity usually peaks in winter.
An annual flu shot is your best protection against influenza.
You need to get a vaccination annually because flu viruses change (mutate) constantly. A new flu vaccine is prepared each year to protect against the strains of the coming flu season.
By getting a flu shot, you are protecting yourself and the community from serious illness.
General practitioners (GPs) and some pharmacies offer the flu vaccine around two months before each flu season.
Free flu shots are available from GPs for:
- pregnant women
- children from six months to five years old
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from 6 months of age
- people with serious health conditions (including severe asthma, diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, kidney, heart, lung or liver disease)
- people 65 years and over.
Flu fact: You can’t catch influenza from the flu shot.
Flu is spread by droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or touches surfaces such as door handles and lift buttons.
Influenza can be spread to someone by an infected person even before their symptoms begin. Adults with influenza are infectious from the day before their symptoms start until 5 to 7 days later. Young children and people with weakened immune systems may be infectious for longer.
Sneeze into your elbow
Sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands, or cover your face with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues in a rubbish bin.
Clean your hands
Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Wash hands for at least 10 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, or use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Stay at home if sick
If you are sick with flu, stay at home and avoid close contact with other people to prevent them from also becoming sick. Wait at least 24 hours after fever goes away.
Symptoms of the flu may last for at least a week and can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, joint pains, headaches, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea (more common in children than adults).
Most people recover from the flu after a few days, but for some people it can lead to a severe and life-threatening illness.
Doctors usually diagnose influenza based on symptoms.
Doctors can confirm the diagnosis by testing a blood sample or fluid from the nose and throat.
These tests are usually only needed if the illness is severe or if there is an increased risk of complications.
Rest, drink plenty of fluid, and consider taking an analgesic for muscle aches and pains.
Do not give aspirin-containing medications to children under 16 who are ill with influenza. This is due to the increased risk of children developing Reye syndrome, a form of encephalitis and liver degeneration.
Specific influenza antiviral medicines can reduce the severity and the duration of influenza but need to be taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms. These medicines need to be prescribed by a doctor, and are usually considered for people at higher risk of complications from influenza infection.
Learn more about
Help track the flu
FluTracking is an online community-based health surveillance system to detect influenza epidemics. Contribute to scientific research by tracking influenza in your local community.