Influenza (Flu)

Page last updated: 10 March 2017

Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from person to person through coughing, sneezing and close contact.

Unlike a cold, symptoms such as fever, sore throat and muscle aches develop suddenly with flu and last about a week. In some cases, severe illness and complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis can develop, which can result in hospitalisation and even death. The flu can also make some existing medical conditions worse.

The flu virus can be especially dangerous for elderly people, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and very young children, as well as for people with underlying medical conditions.

Causes

Three different types of influenza viruses infect humans: influenza A, B and C. Only influenza A and B cause major outbreaks and severe disease, and these types are included in seasonal influenza vaccines. Influenza spreads from person to person through the air by coughing or sneezing, or by direct contact with the virus on hard surfaces or people’s hands. The flu usually differs from a cold as symptoms develop suddenly, and can lead to complications such as chest infections and pneumonia – particularly among the elderly and young children.

Symptoms

Flu symptoms tend to develop abruptly one to three days after infection, and can include: tiredness, high fever, chills, headache, coughing, sneezing, runny noses, poor appetite, and muscle aches. Most people who get the flu will suffer from mild illness and will recover in around four weeks. However, some people can develop more severe health problems, including pneumonia, bronchitis, chest and sinus infections, heart, blood system or liver complications, which can lead to hospitalisation and even death.

Prevention

Annual vaccination is the best way of preventing the flu and any associated illness.

You should get the flu shot every year because the flu virus is constantly changing. Every year, the flu vaccine changes too, so it protects against the flu strains which are most likely to be around during that winter.

There is now evidence that the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine wanes over time and its important be protected when the flu is most common, around August. Ask your doctor for advice on the best time to receive your vaccination.

National Immunisation Program 2017 seasonal flu shot

The 2017 flu shot will be available in April from GP surgeries and other immunisation providers.

The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone from six months of age, but is available free under the National Immunisation Program for people who face a high risk from influenza and its complications. These are:

To receive your influenza vaccination, visit your local doctor or immunisation provider. It is important to note that while the vaccine is free, a consultation fee may apply.

For more information, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has produced advice for immunisation providers regarding the administration of seasonal influenza vaccines in 2017.


1 Severe asthma requiring frequent hospital visits and the use of multiple medications, annual influenza vaccine is an important part of routine care - The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th edition.


Influenza vaccination in children

Children can begin to be immunised against the flu from six months of age. Children aged 6 months to under 9 years of age require two doses, at least four weeks apart in the first year they receive the vaccine. While two doses in the first year are recommended, one dose does provide some protection and is preferable to receiving no doses. One dose of influenza vaccine is required in subsequent years. A single dose of influenza vaccine is given to all children aged nine years and over.

All vaccines currently available in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

In 2017, four age-specific flu vaccines will be available under the National Immunisation Program.

The four vaccines are:

  • FluQuadri Junior® (Sanofi Pasteur) for children from six months to under three years of age.
  • FluQuadri® (Sanofi Pasteur) for people aged 3 years and over.
  • Fluarix® Tetra (GSK) for people aged 3 years and older.
  • Afluria Quad® (Seqirus) for people aged 18 years and older.

Parents should make sure vaccination providers know the age of their child so they can receive the correct vaccine.

Questions and Answers for Influenza (flu) immunisation

Three things you might not know about the flu shot:

  1. There is no live virus in the flu shot, so you cannot get the flu from the vaccine.
  2. The composition of the vaccine changes every year
  3. The flu shot is safe for pregnant women at all stages of their pregnancy.

I received a flu shot last year, do I still need to get one this year?

You should get the flu shot every year because the flu virus is constantly changing. Every year, the flu vaccine changes to match the flu virus, so it protects against the flu strains which are most likely to be around during that winter.

Is it safe for me to get the flu shot if I am pregnant?

Yes. The flu vaccine can be safely given during any stage of pregnancy. Pregnant women are at the increased risk of complications from the flu. Immunising against flu during pregnancy can not only protect women but help provide ongoing protection to a newborn baby for the first six months after birth.

Is it safe for me, as an adult to get the flu shot?

Yes. All flu vaccines currently available in Australia are safe to use in adults. All vaccines in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Further information on the safety of vaccines is available from the Therapeutic Goods Administration website.

What is the National Immunisation Program influenza vaccine for 2017?

This year, four age-specific quadrivalent influenza vaccines (QIVs), which contain four strains of influenza virus will be available free of charge to eligible people through the NIP.

The QIVs will cover two A strains of influenza (Michigan and Hong Kong) and two B strains of influenza (Brisbane and Phuket).

The four vaccines are:

  • FluQuadri Junior® (Sanofi Pasteur) for children from six months to under three years of age.
  • FluQuadri® (Sanofi Pasteur) for people aged 3 years and over.
  • Fluarix® Tetra (GSK) for people aged 3 years and older.
  • Afluria Quad® (Seqirus) for people aged 18 years and older.

Parents should make sure vaccination providers the age of their child so they can receive the correct vaccine.

Why should I receive the influenza vaccine if I am pregnant?

Pregnant women (and women planning pregnancy) are recommend to be immunised against influenza because they are at an increased risk of morbidity and mortality from influenza.

Influenza vaccines given during pregnancy also protect infants against influenza for their first 6 months of life, when they are most vulnerable, yet still too young to be vaccinated themselves.

When should I receive the NIP vaccine?

Most individuals will have developed immunity within two to three weeks of vaccination. As influenza usually occurs from June, with the peak usually falling around August, vaccinating from April 2017 allows individuals to develop immunity before transmission of influenza is usually at its highest.

There is new evidence that the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine wanes over time and its important to be protected when the flu is most common, around August. Ask your doctor for advice on the best time to receive your vaccination.

Have the vaccines been tested for safety?

All vaccines in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The influenza vaccine can be safely given during any stage of pregnancy. Pregnant women are at the increased risk of severe disease of complications from the influenza. Immunising against influenza during pregnancy can not only protect women but provide ongoing protection to a newborn baby for the first six months after birth.

What should I do if there is an adverse event?

You are encouraged to report any adverse event following the flu vaccine to your doctor or vaccination provider, to the Adverse Medicines Events Line on 1300 134 237, or to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) through the ‘Report a problem’ link on the TGA website.

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