What is flu?
- 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).
- Flu is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract that for some people can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications (including pneumonia).
- It affects people of all ages.
- The flu is spread by contact with fluids from coughs and sneezes that contain the virus.
- The flu is a seasonal infection that usually occurs from April to September.
- Flu seasons vary in severity and spread from year to year.
- In a year of high influenza activity, it is estimated that the flu can contribute to more than 3,300 deaths in Australia.
- Even healthy people can sometimes die from the flu.
- For vulnerable Tasmanians, like young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system or chronic medical condition, the flu can have serious outcomes.
- Vaccination is key to protecting yourself from the flu.
Symptoms of the flu
Symptoms are things you might feel that mean you are sick. It can be difficult to tell flu apart from COVID-19, or other winter illnesses. Common symptoms of flu include:
- muscle aches
- feeling very tired;
- a cough.
It is important to know when to seek medical care. If you feel like your symptoms are getting worse but are not serious, contact your GP or healthcare provider.
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
- sudden dizziness
- severe vomiting
- fever with a rash
- or any other symptoms that worry you.
If you need urgent care, call Triple Zero (000).
How flu is diagnosed
- Flu can only be confirmed by a doctor after a nose or throat swab has returned positive results.
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 prevent flu
You can reduce your chances of catching flu or passing it to others by:
- Getting the flu vaccine every year. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older. Find out more about flu vaccinations. An annual vaccine is recommended to everyone aged 6 months and older. Certain groups are eligible for free vaccine and are strongly recommended to receive an annual flu shot. This includes
- children aged 6 months to 5 years of age,
- pregnant women,
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and older,
- those with certain medical conditions, and
- those aged 65 years and older.
- Stay home from work, school or childcare while you, or your child, are unwell.
- If you are unwell, stay at home and do not visit people who are at risk of severe flu. This includes young children, pregnant women, people with other medical conditions, the elderly, people in hospital or aged care homes.
- Wash or sanitise your hands often and well to get rid of germs
- Wash your hands using soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
- Stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people
- Cover your mouth with your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
How to treat flu
Some people are at higher risk of severe illness from flu and may be eligible for special medications to reduce the severity of their illness and risk of hospitalisation. These medications are referred to as antiviral medicines, or simply ‘antivirals’. Antivirals must be prescribed by a doctor.
Higher-risk people who may be eligible for antiviral medication to treat flu includes anyone who is
- aged 65 years or older
- has the following chronic conditions
- heart disease
- Down Syndrome
- chronic respiratory conditions
- severe neurological conditions
- immune compromise
- Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (any age)
- aged 5 years or younger
- a resident of an aged care facility or long-term residential facilities
Antiviral medication used to treat COVID-19 is different to the medication used to treat flu. Find out if you are eligible for antiviral medication to treat COVID-19.
If you are higher-risk you should:
- make a testing and treatment plan with your GP or health care provider before you get sick. This is because you need to begin taking antivirals for flu ideally within 2 days after symptoms start.
- if you get any symptoms, contact your regular GP or health care provider as soon as possible and get tested.
- if you do test positive, let your GP or health care provider know straight away. If you don’t have a regular doctor, or they are not available, and you believe you are higher-risk you can
If you are not at risk of severe illness from flu, you can manage your symptoms at home:
- stay home and rest.
- Avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.
- you can take over-the-counter medicine like paracetamol or ibuprofen as directed on the label if you have a fever, headache, and muscle aches. Carefully follow the instructions on how much paracetamol or ibuprofen to take.
- drink lots of water. You can also use hydration solutions to help stay hydrated.
- most people recover within a week.
- some people are more at risk.
- see your doctor if your symptoms are getting worse. Let them know you have respiratory symptoms.
- Seek urgent medical care if you have any of the symptoms under 'Serious symptoms of flu that require urgent medical care' listed above.
COVID@homeplus provides remote support in the home for people who have COVID-19 and vulnerable people with other respiratory illnesses such as influenza (flu) or flu-like illness who meet specific referral criteria.
If you choose to enrol, you will have access to remote healthcare in the home. Depending on your individual circumstances, you may also be provided with a kit containing devices specifically designed for the COVID@homeplus environment. These devices enable the COVID@homeplus team to monitor your symptoms and recovery.
Differences between the common cold, COVID-19 and flu
- Other viruses can affect your respiratory system (nose, throat and lungs).
- The flu is different to the 'common cold', COVID-19 and other winter illnesses.
- Sometimes the symptoms can feel similar. Symptoms are things you might feel that mean you are sick.
- Winter illnesses, including flu and COVID-19, can cause serious illness, like pneumonia.
- Pneumonia can be life-threatening for older people or if you have certain medical conditions.