Sometimes people say: “I have the flu”, when they really have a cold.
Flu symptoms include:
- Fever (often high)
- Severe cough
- Muscle aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Children’s symptoms may also include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
- Note: If you have a sore throat, runny nose and sneezing without high fever, cough, headache and muscular ache, you’re probably suffering a common cold. Most Australian adults contract a cold two to three times a year. Influenza strikes just once every five years or less. In an average year, children contract six to ten (or more) colds yet only 30% become infected with influenza.
Take our flu quiz to see if you have the flu or are just suffering from a common cold.
Mar 15, 2017
Influenza = the flu
Commonly known as ‘the flu’, influenza is a highly contagious disease that can be serious, debilitating and affect the whole body. The flu is caused by a particular group of RNA viruses (Orthomyxoviridae) and is spread by infected people coughing or sneezing as well as from surfaces contaminated by respiratory secretions. So it’s easy to catch and spread and hard to avoid.
Influenza, or ‘the flu’ is an ever mutating bug that can leave you feeling like you’ve just been run over by a bus. Don’t get it confused with the common cold, which is much less severe – when you have the flu you will know it.
Seasonal influenza can be fatal to people in high risk groups.
Influenza is a potentially fatal disease estimated to cause more deaths than road accidents every year: between 1500 and 3500 influenza deaths annually.
Experts estimate that influenza in Australia causes more than 18,000 hospitalisations and 300,000 GP consultations per year.
Between 5% and 20% of the Australian population may be infected with influenza each year.
Children are much more likely to contract influenza in any given season: 20-50% compared with 10-30% in adults. Up to 70% of children become infected with the influenza virus during a pandemic. (A pandemic is the spread of an infectious disease – like the influenza RNA virus – over a large geographical area. With influenza though, it refers to worldwide spread of an influenza virus that has not previously been seen in humans).
Influenza is extremely contagious
Studies have shown that influenza can survive for:
- An hour or more in the air in enclosed environments
- More than 8 hours on hard surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic
- Up to 15 minutes if transferred from tissues to hands
- Up to 5 minutes after transfer from the environmental surfaces
- One of the hardest things about stopping the spread of the flu is that people can be contagious a day before experiencing any symptoms. Of course this means we are out and about and unfortunately spreading the virus before anyone knows they are unwell.
People at high risk of complications from influenza
People with underlying medical conditions:
- Heart conditions
- Severe asthma
- COPD and other lung conditions
- Diabetes (type 1 and type 2)
- Kidney problems
- Impaired immunity such as HIV infection
- Malignant cancers
- Chronic neurological disorders
People over 65 years of age
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island adults aged over 15 years
Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and are also at increased risk of severe complications from influenza.
Everybody should be protected by flu vaccination
Pretty much everyone can benefit from the flu vaccine. Remember, even if you’re fit and healthy you could pass the virus onto someone who is at risk of becoming very sick if they catch the flu.
If you care for children, older parents or any other at risk person then a flu shot is highly recommended.
“Influenza is highly contagious and can be spread for up to a day before symptoms appear and for five days afterwards.”
5 Facts about spreading the flu
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on them in most situations. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.
Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-dry them.
Here are five reasons you should stay home when you are unwell or recovering from illness:
1. To avoid making your colleagues sick
By going to work when you are sick (commonly referred to as “presenteeism”), you increase the risk of spreading illness to those around you. Consider the burden this creates in the workplace as more and more colleagues become sick.
You are generally considered to be at greatest risk of catching the flu from someone when you are within a metre of the infected person, though there is evidence that infectious flu-containing particles can travel even further. When you consider how closely many people work alongside colleagues, the risk of infection in the workplace is alarmingly high.
2. To stop the spread of illness
It is not only your colleagues who may be affected by your illness: how many other people do you come into contact with each day – on your coffee run, picking up work supplies or on your commute to and from home? Staying home will help stop the spread of the illness.
3. Recover properly
It’s important to stay home from work when sick with the flu to rest and give yourself the best chance of recovery. It is generally recommended that people stay home at least 24 hours after becoming free of fever without taking analgesics.
Painkillers suppress symptoms but do not aid recovery and it is irresponsible for people to suggest you can carry on with your daily activities in this scenario. Returning to work too soon can also have serious health implications. In the case of the flu it can lead to a number of other problems as your immune system is suppressed and your respiratory tract is left susceptible to infection.
4. To avoid wasting time at work
By going to work when sick, you are not working to your full capacity. It has been shown that the efficiency of workers is compromised by 20 to 40 percent when you are ill with influenza. One study suggested that it could be the equivalent of mild alcohol intoxication affecting a worker’s thinking and reflexes. In other words, you are likely to make mistakes.
5. To minimize disruption for your employer
More time off work due to not allowing your body to recover properly, more sick co-workers and none of you working efficiently is not good for anyone.
So, next time you are feeling under the weather, consider staying in bed.
Yes. Covering your nose and mouth with a thick tissue is the best way to contain your germs. If you do not have access to a tissue, you should sneeze into your elbow.
- Don’t sneeze into your hands. …
- Wash your hands. …
- Stay away from people.
Handkerchiefs would be the environmentalist’s choice because of the lower impact on the environment.
Handkerchiefs, especially after being used a number of times, can lead to germs spreading to other surfaces or even other people – especially since most of us don’t wash our hands or use hand sanitiser every time after using our handkerchief.
Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
To avoid this, people should stay away from sick people and stay home if sick. It also is important to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap and do not need to be cleaned separately. Further, frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at home, work and school, especially if someone is ill.
The Flu Is Contagious
Most people may be able to infect others 1 day before symptoms develop. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. You are likely to remain infectious for up to 5 – 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.
Page published: 26 March 2018
Page updated: 11 April 2018