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A-Z of Public Health Topics

Influenza (flu)

Influenza (flu) is a viral disease that causes widespread illness every year.

Flu vaccine and simple steps for the prevention of respiratory diseases (such as staying home when you are sick) are the best ways to reduce the risk of getting flu and will reduce the chances of complications including hospitalisations and deaths.

Flu vaccine is recommended for people 6 months of age and over to protect against flu and its complications.

Flu infections usually occur from April to September. How severe and how long a flu season is different each year. Flu is caused by the influenza virus.  

Staying home when you are sick, washing your hands often, and wearing a mask will reduce your chances of catching the flu or passing it on to others.

Some people are at increased risk of serious disease and complications of flu, including:

  • young children
  • elderly
  • pregnant women
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • people with a weakened immune system or a chronic medical condition.

The best way to protect yourself, your loved ones, and others around you is to get the flu vaccine every year.

Flu vaccine is recommended for everyone aged 6 months or older. Groups at higher risk of complications from the flu can get a free flu vaccine. For those not at higher risk, the vaccine costs about $25 through GPs and pharmacists.

Free seasonal flu vaccine is funded under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for the following groups at higher risk of complications from flu:

  • people aged six months to less than five years (can be given at the same time as childhood vaccines)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and older
  • pregnant women (can be given at any stage of each pregnancy)
  • people aged 65 years and older (a vaccine that is specifically designed to produce a higher immune response is available for this group)
  • people aged six months and older with medical conditions putting them at increased risk of severe flu and its complications.

Protecting children against influenza (flu)

Flu is one of the leading causes of hospitalisation in children. Although the flu is sometimes thought of as just a bad cold, it can cause severe infections such as pneumonia, especially in young children and people with chronic medical conditions. Young children can be hospitalised and, in some cases, can die from flu.

Children aged between six months to five years are at higher risk than older children of developing severe flu symptoms. Older children with conditions that affect breathing and immunity – such as severe asthma, cerebral palsy or congenital heart disease – are also at risk.

The flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the chance of your child becoming sick with flu. It is a safe vaccine. It prevents time lost from school. It prevents severe infections that might result in hospital care. It is important to get your child a flu vaccine every year because the virus changes each year. The vaccine is changed each year to try and match what flu strain is in the community.

The flu vaccine is free for children aged six months to less than five years, and for older children with medical conditions that increase their chances of severe infection. Flu vaccines are available through GPs and pharmacists. 

1. Children between six months and less than five years old are at high risk of developing severe flu.

Children with flu can get severe complications like pneumonia and may need to be admitted to hospital.

2. Flu usually starts with a sudden fever and sore throat, muscle aches and low energy.

Other symptoms can include headache, cough or noisy breathing, runny nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

3. If your child gets sicker or you are worried, you should see your GP urgently.

If your child is having difficulty breathing, becomes very pale or blue around the lips or is drowsy and not responding to your voice, call 000.

4. The flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the chance of your child getting flu.

The flu vaccine helps reduce the spread of flu. A flu vaccine every year will boost your child’s immunity and provide protection against the most recent flu strains.

5. The flu vaccine is safe. You cannot catch the flu from this vaccine.

Unless you have a high fever or in other rare situations, it is safe to give – even if you have a cold. Side effects of the flu vaccine include pain and redness at the site of injection. Less commonly, children may develop a fever or aches and pains, which last one to two days. This is the body’s immune system creating protection against flu.