An in-depth guide to symptoms and ways to avoid catching the flu this winter.
Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses.
It is spread by body fluids from infected people.
The flu spreads:
- when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and you breathe it in
- through direct contact with fluid from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes
- by touching a contaminated surface with the flu virus on it, and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose
Flu is more serious than a common cold
The flu can lead to:
- ear infections
- heart and other organ damage
- brain inflammation and brain damage
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to decreased exposure to the influenza virus and lower influenza vaccine coverage compared to previous years. But with an end to lockdowns and state and international borders reopening, doctors are expecting a resurgence of influenza in 2022, prompting warnings of a potentially monster flu season ahead.
So far this year in NSW (as of 24 May 2022), there have been 14,812 reported flu cases and 3,349 people have presented to emergency departments with flu-like illness.
Source: NSW Health
Four way to protect yourself against flu this winter
- get a flu shot
- stay at home if sick
- sneeze into your elbow
- clean your hands
Symptoms of flu
Flu symptoms may last for at least a week and can include:
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- muscle aches
- joint pains
- vomiting and diarrhoea (more common in children than adults)
The symptoms of COVID-19 and flu can be similar. If you have any cold or flu-like symptoms, you should take a test for COVID-19 straight away, even if you are up-to-date with your vaccinations.
If you have flu-like symptoms but have tested negative to COVID-19, you should still stay home until your symptoms clear up to prevent the spread of illness.
What do I do if I get the flu?
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Consider taking gentle pain relief for muscle aches and pains
Children under 16 who are ill with flu should not be given medication containing aspirin. Contact your GP if you’re concerned about you or your child’s illness.
Flu complication risks
Some groups may be at risk for serious complications from flu, and your GP may want to prescribe antiviral medication.
These groups include:
- children from six months to under five years of age
- people with serious health conditions (including severe asthma, diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, obesity, kidney, heart, lung or liver disease)
- pregnant women
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from six months of age
- people who are 65 years of age and over
If your symptoms become severe (difficulty breathing, sudden dizziness or confusion, pain or pressure in the chest) call Triple Zero (000) straight away.
Your GP should be the first port of call when you’re sick
Save hospital emergency departments for emergencies, especially during this busy winter flu season.
If you have a fever or flu-like symptoms, like a cough or runny nose or are short of breath, please ring your GP clinic’s reception prior to your appointment to discuss your appointment options.
If you have COVID-19 or flu and have health questions that are not a medical emergency, talk to your GP or call NSW Health’s Flu and COVID-19 Care at Home Support Line on 1800 960 933.
You can also call Healthdirect 24/7 for free on 1800 022 222 for fast, expert health advice from registered nurses.
- Flu vaccination FAQs | healthdirect website
- Download: Cold or Flu? Infographic (PDF)
- Learn more about the flu | Department of Health website
- Visit NSW Health for translated information
- Read a statement from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee on winter season preparedness
- NSW Health is urging parents to get children under five vaccinated against flu.