What is flu?
On this page
- Flu is the common name for a virus called ‘influenza’.
- Viruses cause an infection in your body.
- Flu causes an infection of your respiratory system (nose, throat and lungs).
Symptoms of the flu
Symptoms are things you might feel that mean you are sick. Flu symptoms include:
- muscle aches
- feeling very tired
- a cough
- sore throat.
How flu is diagnosed
- Your doctor may suspect flu based on your symptoms.
- It is difficult to tell the flu from coronavirus (COVID-19).
- Your doctor will send you for a swab of your throat and nose.
- They will test for coronavirus (COVID-19), and they may also test for flu.
How flu affects people
- The flu virus is contagious.
- This means it spreads easily from person to person.
- The flu virus can live for up to five minutes on your hands.
- It can also live for up to a day on hard surfaces.
- It spreads when infected people cough or sneeze without covering their mouths and noses.
- It also spreads if you touch a surface that an infected person has touched.
- It takes between one and four days to start feeling unwell if you are infected.
- You can be contagious one day before symptoms start until one week after you start to feel unwell.
- Contagious means you can spread the virus to other people.
- Children and people with impaired immune systems may pass the virus on for longer.
- An impaired immune system means your body can't protect you against infection as well as other people.
How to treat flu
- Stay home and rest.
- Avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.
- You can take paracetamol if you have a fever, headache, and muscle aches.
- Carefully follow the instructions on how much paracetamol to take.
- See your doctor if your symptoms are getting worse.
- In certain circumstances your doctor may choose to give you a medicine called an antiviral. Your doctor will decide if this is suitable for you.
- Most people recover within a week.
- Some people are more at risk.
How to prevent flu
You can reduce your chances of catching flu or passing it to others by:
- getting the flu vaccine every year
- washing your hands often to get rid of the germs
- Wash your hands using soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
What to do if you have flu
- Cover your mouth with your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
- Stay home from work and let someone know you are sick.
- If your child is unwell do not send them to childcare or school.
- Avoid visiting people who are at risk of severe flu.
- This includes young children, pregnant women, people with other medical conditions and the elderly.
- Avoid visiting family or friends in hospital or aged-care homes.
- Stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people, especially when coughing.
- Call ahead if you need to see a doctor.
- The medical service may plan your visit to prevent infection from spreading to others.
Differences between the common cold and flu
- Other viruses can affect your respiratory system (nose, throat and lungs).
- The ‘common cold’ is different to the flu.
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) is also different to the flu.
- Sometimes the symptoms can feel similar.
- Symptoms are things you might feel that mean you are sick.
- The flu can cause more serious illness, like pneumonia.
- Pneumonia can be life-threatening for older people or if you have certain medical conditions.
Where to get more information
- Speak to your doctor or pharmacy.
- Call Tasmania’s Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.
- Visit the Immunise Australia website or call 1800 671 811.
- Visit the Australian Government’s Influenza Immunisation Advice website.