"Colds can make us feel pretty awful but being struck down with flu can be far more serious, particularly for those more vulnerable in the community. Autumn is the best time to consider having your annual flu vaccine. If you do get sick, stay home, throw away used tissues, wash your hands often and keep sick children home from school if they are sick. This will help to stop the flu spreading through the community this winter. And if you're thinking of getting the annual flu vaccine, autumn is the best time, before flu season arrives."
Dr Christine Bennett
Chair, Medical Advisory Panel, Bupa Australia
Most cases of influenza occur within a six to eight-week period during winter and spring. Each year, there are over 80,000 GP visits due to flu in Australia.
Infected people can spread cold and flu viruses from a day before symptoms start and up to five days afterwards. On average, adults catch two to three colds each year. School-age children can have 12 or more colds in a year.
For a small minority, the flu can lead to serious complications and be life-threatening.
Cold and flu viruses are spread from person to person as droplets in the air. Sneezing or coughing produces more droplets and helps to spread the infection. Touching infected surfaces, such as door handles or when shaking hands, and then passing the virus from the hands to the mouth, nose or eyes is another route of infection.
The runny nose, headache, sore throat or "stuffy" feeling you get during a common cold is caused by one of many viruses - often a rhinovirus - and they can infect your nose, throat, sinuses and airways.
Influenza - or flu - is caused by influenza viruses. Flu symptoms are similar to those of a cold but they tend to be more severe, with muscle aches and pains, chills and fever. With flu you could be off work for a few days to a week, and aches and pains could last longer. In vulnerable people, such as the elderly or people with lung disease, it can lead to life-threatening complications.
Cold viruses grow in the soft, warm surfaces of your inner nose, throat, sinuses and airways, so this is where you usually get the symptoms. Typically, you will get a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and a cough. You might also have a fever, aching muscles and general tiredness. These symptoms usually last for about a week.
The symptoms are similar to colds but the muscle aching is usually more severe and the tiredness may last for a few weeks after the illness has cleared up. You’re likely to get a fever, and you may also lose your appetite, feel or be sick or have diarrhoea.
For most healthy adults, flu is just like a nasty cold. However, young children, the elderly and people with long-term illnesses are more likely to get complications.
Complications of flu include getting an infection in your lungs (pneumonia), ears, nose or throat. Children under six with flu can sometimes have seizures or fits - known as febrile convulsions - because of their high body temperature.4 See more information about fever in children.
You are at greater risk of having complications if you are elderly or live in a care home or if you have: 2
There is no cure for colds or flu. Antibiotics, which treat infections due to bacteria, don’t work on cold and flu viruses. However, here are some things you can do to help yourself feel better:
See your GP or pharmacist if your symptoms get worse or if you are concerned about yourself or someone with flu.
There are a few steps you can take to help prevent catching colds and flu:
There are steps you can take when you have a cold or flu, to help prevent spreading illness:
As flu travels around the world, the viruses mutate (change) into new strains from year to year. This is why many people can become infected each year as few of us have immunity against each new strain of the flu virus.
The World Health Organization recommends the composition of new seasonal flu vaccines each year.10 This yearly vaccine can help protect you from common strains of the seasonal influenza virus.9
For more information see seasonal flu vaccine.
The protection against flu develops about two weeks after vaccination and lasts for a year. The best time to vaccinate is in autumn, before the actual outbreak in winter.
As part of the Australian Government’s Immunise Australia program, the flu vaccine is free for:9
If you don’t fall into one of these categories, the flu vaccine is still available by private prescription – so talk to your GP if you’d like to be vaccinated.11 Flu vaccinations may also be offered to employees as part of a workplace health program.
For more information about the flu vaccine, talk to your GP or local pharmacist.
The Immunise Australia Program
1800 671 811
Influenza Specialist Group
Information on the flu virus, flu vaccinations, and expert opinion from Australian clinicians and scientists who specialise in the flu virus
Last published: 30 July 2011Top of page
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.
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