A happy, older woman walking through a forest.

More common in winter, the flu is a highly contagious infection that can affect anyone but poses greater risk of complication in certain groups of people.

Did you know?

  • The flu viruses change constantly, which is why outbreaks occur every year.

  • Flu outbreaks usually occur during winter.

  • On average in Australia the flu causes approximately 100 deaths and 5000 hospitalisations each year.1
A young girl riding around on her pink, three wheeled scooter.

What is it?

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is usually caused by two kinds of viruses: Influenza A and Influenza B. Both viruses change all the time, which is why there are flu outbreaks every year.

The flu can cause mild to severe illness, and may be life threatening in a small number of people.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, headache, cough, sneezing, a runny nose, poor appetite, tiredness and muscle aches. These symptoms usually come on quickly.

Children can get even higher temperatures, causing increased risk of convulsions (or fits).

For some people, having the flu could lead to more serious conditions like bronchitis (inflammation of the lungs), pneumonia (lung infection), or problems with the heart, blood system and liver.

This is not a full list of symptoms, please speak to a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about the flu.

How is it spread?

While it can happen any time, it's more common to catch the flu in the colder months of the year (June to September). Flu can be spread from person to person through the air, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread by direct contact with a person who has the flu or an object that a person with the flu has touched.

Once a person has the flu, they can spread it to other people from the day before their first symptoms appear and up to five days after their symptoms stop.

Who is at risk?

Flu can affect anyone, even healthy people. Yet it can be worse with higher risk of complication for:

  • people aged 65 and over
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • pregnant women
  • those with certain medical conditions, such as heart problems, asthma or lung problems, kidney problems, blood or metabolic diseases (such as diabetes), or weakened immune systems.

Other people may be at risk of the flu. Please speak to a healthcare professional regarding your individual circumstances.

Prevention and Treatment options

  • Children and Adults

    Practicing good hygiene can help to protect against illness and reduce the spread of germs;

    • cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with a tissue or into your upper sleeve or elbow. Throw the tissue in the rubbish after using it.
    • wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
    • if no water is available use an alcohol-based hand-rub
    • avoid close contact with people who are sick
    • if you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to reduce the risk of infecting them
    • avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as this is how germs can spread 
    • disinfect and clean objects and surfaces that may be contaminated.

    The risk of seasonal influenza can be reduced through immunisation.

    Mild flu gets better on its own without any treatment. In some cases antiviral medicines (which fight against viral infections) may be used to treat the flu if started within the first two days of symptoms starting. These are different from antibiotics (which fight against bacterial infections, and do not work for viruses). Antiviral medicines may help to reduce symptoms and decrease the amount of time you are sick by one or two days.

    If your flu is not severe, treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and can include bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking paracetamol to help reduce pain and fever. 

    Please speak to a healthcare professional for more information about seasonal influenza prevention and treatment options.

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  • Travellers

    It is important to plan ahead and see a healthcare professional at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss prevention options and travel health.


  1. Flu (Influenza), Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/flu-influenza (accessed October 2020)

PM-AU-AVX-WCNT-190037 Date of GSK Approval: January 2020