Emergency advice: influenza

The highly contagious respiratory illness can strike at any time of the year but usually peaks in winter.


What to expect from influenza

There are 3 main types of influenza that cause infection in humans – types A, B and C – and many sub-types or strains.

Influenza can occur at any time of the year, but it usually peaks in winter.

You can be vaccinated to prevent become infected but the vaccine needs to be given each year as influenza viruses change constantly.

Influenza symptoms

People with influenza typically experience some or all of the following symptoms for at least a week:

  • Fever and chills.
  • Cough, sore throat and runny or stuffy nose.
  • Muscle aches, joint pains, headaches and fatigue.
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea (more common with children).

You should seek immediate medical advice if the illness becomes worse or if any of the following occurs: 

  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing.
  • Chest pain.
  • Confusion or sudden dizziness.
  • Persistent vomiting. 

Risks of influenza

While anyone can get influenza some people are at higher risk of infection complications and are eligible for free flu vaccinations yearly:

  • All individuals aged 65 years or older.
  • All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years or older.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People with existing medical conditions such as cardiac disease, chronic respiratory condition, chronic neurological conditions and compromised immune systems.

Influenza viruses are mainly spread through tiny droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Influenza can also spread after you touch surfaces where infected droplets have landed and can be spread by an infected person even before they start to show symptoms.

Adults with influenza are infectious from the day before their symptoms start until 5 to 7 days later. Young children and people listed above may be infectious for longer periods before and after the symptoms occur.

Preventing the spread of influenza

The best way to prevent becoming infected with influenza viruses is to be vaccinated each year before winter arrives.

Seasonal influenza vaccinations are available for any person aged 6 months and over, subject to your doctor's advice.

People in higher-risk groups (see risks of influenza) and those who frequently come into close contact with others such as health care workers, are strongly recommended to be vaccinated against influenza each year.

To help prevent the spread of influenza you should:

  • Cover your face when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues in the bin.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Wash hands for at least 10 seconds, especially after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, or use an alcohol-based hand rub
  • Stay at home until you're well. Wait at least 24 hours after your fever resolves so you are less likely to infect other people. Keep sick children away from school and other activities.
  • Call ahead to see a doctor. If you think you may have influenza and you need to see a doctor, you should let the clinic know before you arrive so precautions can be taken to reduce further influenza infections. 

Influenza symptoms are usually managed by bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking simple pain killers. Seek medical advice before taking or administering medications.

More information about influenza

NSW Health provides more information about influenza and vaccination and immunisation programs.

The NSW Government's state influenza pandemic plan details how emergency information is provided to agencies and service providers that support communities, particularly vulnerable people during influenza pandemics.

This information has been adapted from the NSW Health website