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Older woman receiving annual flu vaccination.

Older woman receiving annual flu vaccination.
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Colds and flu prevention

5-minute read

Good hygiene is one of the most important ways to help prevent colds and flu (influenza).

Other ways to help prevent flu can include:

  • annual flu vaccination
  • antiviral medicines, although these are only recommended for preventing flu if you have been exposed to the flu in the previous 48 hours

Good hygiene includes:

  • washing your hands regularly and properly with soap and water, particularly after touching your nose or mouth, and before handling food
  • sneezing and coughing into tissues then throwing them away immediately and washing your hands
  • cleaning surfaces such as your keyboard, telephone and door handles regularly to get rid of germs
  • not sharing cups, plates and cutlery
  • where you can, avoid sharing towels with other people and throw disposable tissues and paper towels in the bin immediately after using them

What should I know about the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is available for anyone from 6 months of age. The best time to get the flu shot is early autumn to allow time for your immunity to be strengthened before the flu season (June to September) starts. It is important to have the vaccine each year to continue to be protected because your immunity decreases over time and the flu strains change over time as well.

The flu vaccine is free for the following people:

Flu vaccine FAQs

When should I have the flu shot?

There is emerging evidence that the flu vaccine is most effective within the first three to four months after it is given. The peak season for the flu from around June to September, so it is important to get your flu shot before this time in April or May.

Who should get the flu shot?

The Australian Government recommends that everyone over the age of six months gets the flu shot every year.

Can the flu shot give me the flu?

No. All flu vaccines for use in Australia are ‘inactivated’, which means they are not infectious.

Sometimes people get side effects from the flu shot that are similar to early signs of the flu, for example, fever, tiredness and muscle aches. These side effects can start within a few hours of being vaccinated and sometimes last one or two days. They go away on their own once your body has made an immune response to the vaccine, which will protect you from the influenza virus. In 2017, only 6% of Australians who received a flu vaccine reported side effects.

Sometimes I get the flu despite having had the flu shot - why is this and why should I bother?

The influenza vaccination can prevent illness in about 50 to 60% of healthy adults under the age of 65, although this varies year by year. Because the vaccine is not 100% effective some people may still catch the virus after getting vaccinated, but the risk is reduced nonetheless.

Although most people who get the flu recover without lasting effects, the flu can be very serious in some people and cause hospitalisation or even death. It is not possible to predict who will be severely affected. The flu vaccine both reduces your chances of getting the flu, and may reduce the severity of the symptoms, so it is therefore important to get vaccinated.

Are there different vaccines for children, adults, pregnant women and the elderly?

Generally, children, adults and pregnant women get the same vaccine to protect against the flu. However, if your child is under nine years old and has not been vaccinated before, they will need to get two doses of the vaccine in their first year.

In 2018, two new flu vaccines (Fluzone High-Dose and Fluad) became available for people aged 65 years and over. These vaccines are not available for people younger than 65.

Is it OK to get the flu vaccine more than once during each flu season?

For adults, studies have not shown a benefit from getting more than one dose of vaccine in the same flu season. Only children under nine years who have not been vaccinated for the flu before should receive a second dose of vaccine.

For more information on the flu vaccine, go to the Immunise Australia website or call the Program Information Line on 1800 671 811.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your cold or flu, why not use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it's self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: May 2018

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