What is influenza?
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is caused by a virus and mainly spreads from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing or talking, and by touching a person’s hands, surface or object.
The flu virus infects your respiratory system such as the nose, throat and sometimes your lungs. It differs from a cold as symptoms such as fever, sore throat and muscle aches develop suddenly and last about a week. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can cause complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis which require hospitalisation. Sometimes these complications can lead to death.
Flu can also make some underlying medical conditions worse. There is a need to get vaccinated every year because the viruses circulating in the community continually change and immunity from the vaccine does not last a long time. It is especially important that people at risk be vaccinated each year.
4 things you might not know about the flu shot!
- There is no live virus in the flu shot.
- The composition of the vaccine changes every year.
- The flu shot is safe for pregnant women at all stages of their pregnancy.
- The Flu shot is not recommended for children under 6 months of age.
Can I receive free flu vaccine under the National Immunisation Program?
The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone from 6 months of age who wishes to be protected against influenza. Free flu vaccine is available for the following people:
- Anyone aged 65 years and over
- All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 6 months up to 5 years of age
- Pregnant women
- Anyone aged 6 months and over with one or more of the following medical conditions:
- heart disease
- severe asthma
- chronic lung condition
- diseases of the nervous system
- impaired immunity eg. cancer, kidney problems
- Children aged 6 months to 10 years who are on long-term aspirin therapy
I received a flu shot last year, do I still need to get one this year?
Yes. Immunity decreases over time and flu vaccination is needed each year to ensure you continue to be protected. Vaccination is recommended in early autumn to allow time for immunity to be strengthened before the flu season starts.
The 2014 seasonal influenza vaccine is trivalent which means it can protect against three strains of the influenza virus. The 2014 trivalent vaccine differs from the 2013 seasons trivalent vaccine as it contains two new strains. Therefore it is especially important for those who are at risk to be vaccinated.
Even if you received a flu vaccination towards the end of the last flu season, you should still be vaccinated again before this flu season.
My child has a medical condition. Should they get the flu vaccine?
If your child has a chronic medical condition, he or she is at increased risk of severe flu or complications from flu. Flu vaccination is very important if your child has any of the medical conditions listed in the table below. Flu vaccination is provided free for children older than 6 months of age with any of these medical conditions.
Medical conditions that are associated with an increased risk of influenza disease complications and for which individuals are eligible for vaccination under the National Immunisation Program
Chronic respiratory conditions
Chronic neurological conditions
Diabetes and other metabolic disorders
Long-term aspirin therapy in children aged 6 months to 10 years
Is it safe for my child to be vaccinated for flu?
Yes. Children can begin to be vaccinated against the flu from 6 months of age.
Flu vaccines are safe and have been used in children around the world and in Australia for many years. All vaccines currently available in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Specific brands of flu vaccine are registered with the TGA for use in children - and some flu vaccines should not be used for certain age groups of children.
Since late 2010, Fluvax has been used only for children aged more than 5 years.
Are there any side effects with the flu vaccine?
Vaccines, like other medicines, can have side effects, however the majority of side effects are minor.
Common side effects following flu vaccination include soreness, redness, pain and swelling at the injection site, fever and malaise. These side effects are usually mild and resolve within a few days, usually without any treatment. You should contact your doctor if you are concerned or your child has a persistent high temperature.
There may be a small increase in the risk of fever when a child receives both the flu vaccine and the pneumococcal disease vaccine (13vPCV) at the same time. These two vaccines can be given separately, with a least a three day interval between them, to reduce the likelihood of fever. If you are concerned, you should discuss this option with your doctor or immunisation provider.
Is it safe for me to get the flu shot if I am pregnant?
Yes. The flu vaccine can be safely given during any stage of pregnancy. Pregnant women are at increased risk of severe disease or complications from the flu. Vaccinating against flu during pregnancy can not only protect pregnant women but provide ongoing protection to a newborn baby for the first six months after birth.
Is it safe for me, as an adult, to get the flu shot?
Yes. All flu vaccines currently available in Australia are safe to use in adults. All vaccines in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
What are the possible side effects from the flu shot?
Common side effects following seasonal flu vaccination include soreness, redness, pain and swelling at the injection site, fever, vomiting and malaise. These side effects are usually mild and resolve within a few days, usually quickly without any treatment. Generally, reactions may occur within a few hours following vaccination and may last 1 to 2 days.
Some side effects may mimic flu infection, but all flu vaccines do not contain live virus and so do not cause you to get influenza.
Side effects such as hives or anaphylaxis are rare. People with a history of an allergic reaction to egg protein may still receive flu vaccine after talking to your doctor.
If I get a side effect after I have a flu vaccine, where can I report it?
Speak to your doctor