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What is the flu?

The flu – or influenza – is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications, including pneumonia. The flu is spread by contact with fluids from coughs and sneezes.

The flu is not like a cold. Symptoms last on average one to two weeks but for some it takes several weeks to recover.

A bout of the flu typically follows this pattern:

  • Days 1–3: Sudden appearance of fever, headache, muscle pain and weakness, dry cough, sore throat and sometimes a stuffy nose.
  • Day 4: Fever and muscle aches decrease. Hoarse, dry or sore throat, cough and possible mild chest discomfort become more noticeable. You may feel tired or flat.
  • Day 8: Symptoms decrease. Cough and tiredness may last one to two weeks or more.

Getting the flu is even more likely if you have been in contact with someone who already has it, or have had some other type of exposure to the virus, such as overseas travel to areas where flu outbreaks are occurring.

The flu doesn’t discriminate and anyone can be affected – that’s why it is so important that everyone in the community protects themselves against the flu this season by getting their flu shot.

Anyone can get the flu

Each year the flu affects thousands of Victorians and puts an enormous amount of pressure on our hospitals and health system. Over 3,500 avoidable deaths occur in Australia every year from complications of seasonal flu, including pneumonia.

The flu isn’t like the common cold, it can hit quickly and last for a few weeks, meaning time off work or school and staying away from family and friends. For vulnerable Victorians, like children, the elderly and people with a weakened immune system, the flu can have serious and devastating outcomes.

We want to ensure that all Victorians know what steps they can take to help prevent getting and spreading the flu.

Did you know?

The flu isn’t like the common cold. Symptoms such as high fever, dry cough, body aches, weakness and fatigue hit quickly (one to four days after being exposed to the virus) and can knock you out for weeks.

The flu virus can live on surfaces like lift buttons, toilets and door handles for up to 48 hours. It is spread when you touch your own mouth or nose after touching a surface that has the virus on it. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water to stop the flu spreading.

When more people get their flu shot, it’s harder for the flu to spread – protecting you, your friends, your family and vulnerable people in our community. This is what is known as ‘herd immunity’.

Anyone can get the flu – it doesn’t discriminate. If you’re fit and healthy, you’re still at risk of getting the flu.

The flu can be a lot worse for pregnant women, so make sure you get your free flu shot today. It’s safe, effective and protects you and your baby, even after they’re born.

You might have the flu now and not know it. You can be contagious up to four days before you first feel sick, while you’re sick, and up to seven days after. When you are sick with the flu, avoid going to work or school, and don’t visit public places.

The flu shot can’t give you the flu, because it doesn’t contain any ‘live’ virus. You may feel a little ‘off’ after getting the flu shot and that’s completely normal.

The flu changes every year. Each year vaccines are created to protect you against the top circulating flu strains identified by the World Health Organisation. So even if you have had your flu shot last year, you are still at risk of getting the flu.

Who is eligible for the free flu shot?

All Victorians six months or older are encouraged to get an annual flu shot. However some groups in our community are more vulnerable to the flu virus, and can also suffer more serious complications from the flu. The flu vaccines are available for free in 2018 for these groups due to their increased risk of complications from the flu:

  • all children aged six months to less than five years old
  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander persons aged 6 months to less than 5 years or those over 15 years
  • all Victorians aged over 6 months who have certain medical conditions which increase the risk of influenza complications; for example, severe asthma, lung or heart disease, low immunity or diabetes
  • all adults aged over 65 years
  • pregnant women (during any stage of pregnancy).

To get your free flu vaccine call your GP to ensure they have vaccine available and make an appointment to get your flu shot. If your usual GP doesn’t have any vaccine available, consider other GP practices or health services in your area.  

Three simple steps to stop the spread of flu

Step one:

Cough or sneeze into your elbow

Hands are a major transmitter of viruses and bugs. If you don't have a tissue handy and you feel a sneeze or cough coming on, cough or sneeze into your elbow. It's a part of your body less likely to touch other surfaces and will help stop the spread of those nasty germs.

If you do use a tissue, make sure you dispose of it into a bin nearby.

Step two:

Wash your hands regularly

Flu germs are carried in almost invisible little droplets from saliva, sneezes, coughs and runny noses.

They can live on surfaces for hours, and spread when people touch the infected surface.

Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water at regular intervals throughout the day is a quick and easy way to help stop the spread of these germs.

Step three:

If you're sick, stay home

The best way to avoid spreading the flu is to stay at home while you are unwell. In particular, avoid going to work or school or visiting busy public places and vulnerable people, such as the elderly.

Avoid contact with others as much as possible while the infection is contagious. For adults this is usually around 3–5 days from when the first symptoms appear, and up to 7 days in younger children.

Protect yourself and your family

Wash your hands regularly: – Read more. 

Cover your cough and sneeze:Read more.