What is the Flu?
The flu is caused by an extremely contagious virus, influenza A or B, that can infect your upper and/or lower respiratory tract. This includes your nose, throat and sometimes lungs. It spreads easily from person to person through coughing, sneezing and close contact and occurs most commonly during Winter and early Spring.
A common cold usually presents with a runny nose, sore throat and cough, whereas symptoms of the flu start suddenly and can include high temperatures, cold sweats, headaches, aching joints and fatigue. Elderly people can often become confused, whereas children may also suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Generally symptoms last about a week however the feeling of fatigue can linger for several weeks after the initial episode. Severe cases of the flu can even lead to complications such as pneumonia and can worsen existing medical conditions, sometimes leading to hospitalisation or death.
What is the Flu Vaccination
The flu vaccine is made with either deactivated (dead) viruses or with synthetic, lab-made variants of the flu virus. These viruses trigger the bodies natural defence mechanisms and stimulate the production of specific antibodies. When the body is exposed to the real flu virus, it is able to recognise it and quickly reproduce these antibodies in order to fight the virus off.
Every year the flu vaccine changes to match the flu virus that is most likely to be around during the flu season. The vaccine contains no live viruses and is therefore unable to give you the flu. It may however, cause some flu like side effects such as mild fever, headache or muscle aches.
Who Should Get Vaccinated Against the Flu
Adults are contagious 1-2 days before getting symptoms and up to 7 days after becoming ill. This means that you can spread the influenza virus before you even know you are infected. The best way to protect against the flu is through vaccination. It is most effective in the three to four months after it is given so now is the perfect time to get it! Vaccination experts recommend that everyone over six months of age should get vaccinated against the flu.
The National Immunisation Program provides free vaccination to some people. These people include:
- People 65 years and over
- Pregnant women (during any stage of their pregnancy)
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- People with certain medical conditions including:
- Heart disease
- Severe asthma
- Chronic lung conditions
- Diseases of the nervous system that affect breathing
- Impaired immunity
- Kidney disease
- Blood disorders
- Children between six months and ten years of age on long term aspirin therapy
How Do I Avoid getting the flu
The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get vaccinated each year. It is also important to practice good health habits such as:
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
- Staying home when you are sick
- Covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing
- Cleaning your hands regularly
- Not share personal items
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Being physically active