Influenza - What is the flu?
Posted on 22nd April, 2021
What is the flu?
Influenza, commonly known as the 'flu', is a viral infection that can affect all of us in the community. Symptoms of the flu can range from mild to severe - including fever, runny nose, sore throat, muscle pains, coughing, weakness and tiredness. The infection is caused by the highly contagious influenza virus, of which there are two basic types (A and B).
It is often confused with the 'common cold', which is a more common viral infection, usually causing a runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion. There are more than 200 viruses that can cause the 'common cold', however, symptoms are normally mild and will resolve within 1-2 weeks. Influenza however is much more serious and can be life-threatening, so thankfully a vaccine is available to protect us and prevent the spread of the virus!
What is the flu vaccine?
The vaccine contains an inactivated form of the virus, including 2 influenza A subtypes and 2 influenza B subtypes. Each year the vaccine is updated to provide cover for the strains that are most likely to dominate for the approaching flu season. The 2021 quadrivalent vaccine has been updated to provide cover for the Victoria, Hong Kong, Washington and Phuket strains of influenza. This vaccine will also be available this year to provide a stronger dose for those over 65 years of age, who are at a higher risk of illness from the flu.
Although hand hygiene and isolating ourselves at home while sick can help, vaccination is the best way we can protect ourselves from the flu. The influenza virus is usually spread through the air when someone coughs, sneezes or talks. You can also catch the flu from touching a contaminated surface with the virus on it, and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose. Getting your dose of the vaccine is the most effective method of preventing us from contracting the flu and, more importantly in some cases, preventing us from spreading it to those in our family or workplace that may be more susceptible to the virus.
If you are caring for or living with, someone that is vulnerable to illness then getting vaccinated helps prevent you from being a carrier for the virus and reduce the spread to them!
The vaccine won't protect you from contracting one of the many 'common cold' viruses, but it will protect you from influenza, which is much worse and potentially life-threatening in some groups of the community.
When should I get my dose?
Your immunity is strongest and most effective 3 to 4 months after you are vaccinated. Flu season in Australia usually runs from June to September, peaking in August, so it is important to get your flu shot in April or May.
Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?
No - This is a common misconception! All flu vaccines used in Australia are 'inactivated', which means they do not contain the live flu virus and so you can't catch the flu from the vaccine. Less than 15% of people experience side effects from the vaccine that is similar to the early signs of the flu. These may include fever, tiredness and muscle aches.
These side effects can start within a few hours of your being vaccinated and sometimes last for 1 or 2 days. They usually go away on their own, once your body has developed an immune response to the vaccine, which will protect you from the flu virus. It is important to remember that the side effects show the vaccine is triggering an immune response, which is what it's designed to do.
When should I time my flu vaccine dose, relating to the COVID-19 vaccine?
It is currently recommended that there should be a minimum interval of 14 days in between the COVID-19 vaccine and any other vaccine dose, including influenza. This can be a bit tricky for some, especially considering the COVID vaccine needs to be a TWO dose course (3-week interval for the Pfizer dose, or a 12-week interval for the Astra Zeneca dose). Depending on what phase of the vaccine rollout you may be included, this might mean waiting until at least 14 days after your first COVID vaccine dose to get your single Influenza vaccine dose.
$24.95 for those under 65 years old
$10 for those over 65 years old (* available for free under the NIP via GP appointment)