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The Flu and the Flu shot

First things first – influenza “the flu” is NOT a normal head cold. Influenza is a group of viruses that cause serious illness including pneumonia, blood infection, brain infections and in severe cases even death.

 


 

You can be infectious 24hours before your symptoms start until about a week after you’ve started to become unwell.

 

Influenza is spread like any other airborne virus – through coughing, sneezing, and touching of contaminated surfaces. It is highly infectious and spreads easily through families, schools, and workplaces. Every year in Australia there are hundreds of thousands of cases of influenza, mostly occurring over the winter months. The virus mutates quickly, and every year the strains are different, making it hard to develop an immunisation to prevent influenza.

 



 

Symptoms of the flu are different to that of a common cold. Instead of just a runny nose and sore throat, you’re likely to also get

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough, and sometimes trouble breathing  
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea (more likely in children)

You can be infectious 24hours before your symptoms start until about a week after you’ve started to become unwell.

The scary thing about influenza is that it can be fatal for some people if they develop pneumonia or a blood infection called sepsis. People at high risk of becoming seriously unwell from the flu are the very young and the very old, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people, smokers, people with weak immune systems, or people with underlying medical conditions especially emphysema and asthma.

 



 

The only way to diagnose influenza is on a nose and throat swab (like a covid swab!). If it is caught early enough, medication can be given by your doctor to reduce the severity of the illness however there is no cure for influenza. Symptoms of aches, pains and fevers are treated with medication like paracetamol and ibuprofen. For people who develop pneumonia, sepsis or breathing troubles, they need to be looked after in hospital.  

 

So what can you do to prevent getting the flu?

  1. Wash your hands, stay home if you’re unwell, and wear a mask. Since COVID-19, the rates of influenza have plummeted because people are doing these things! These simple infection control techniques are very

 

  1. Get your flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is a safe, annual immunisation which protects against 4 strains of flu – the most common and the most severe. Getting your flu shot every year is the best way to safeguard against getting a very aggressive form of the virus. If you are over 65 or have underlying medical conditions, the flu shot will be FREE.


Talk to a doctor if you have any other questions about the flu or the flu shot.