The flu is a respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. If you come down with the flu, you’ll have lots of company. Every year, thousands of people across Australia catch it. Most of those people are kids, but people in every age group are susceptible.
Most healthy people recover from the flu within a week or two. However, for others such as the elderly, the young, or those with pre-existing illnesses, the flu can become more serious.
At the very least, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to work, socialise, play sports or take holidays while you have the flu.
Flu symptoms can be similar to cold symptoms, but the flu can become much more serious so it is important that you can tell the two illnesses apart. The biggest difference is that the flu comes on fast, while a cold develops gradually.
What is the flu?
The flu is an infection of the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs, but the effects can be felt throughout the whole body. If the flu spreads to your lungs it can cause bronchitis or even pneumonia.
How the flu spreads
Like colds, the flu is caused by a virus, which is highly infectious and easily transmitted by:
- Hand to hand contact. Typically, someone with the flu sneezes or coughs into their hand, or rubs their nose, then shakes hands with another person who touches their own mouth, nose or eyes. From here, the flu virus easily enters the body, spreading and multiplying through the respiratory tract: nose, throat and lungs.
- Contact with objects touched or coughed on by someone with the flu. For example, doorknobs, towels, telephones, pens, keyboards, work equipment, steering wheels, taps, shopping trolleys, and handrails on public transport.
- Contact with an infected person. More direct contact can include kissing, sharing a glass, an ice cream or an eating utensil.
- Inhaling airborne droplets. Each droplet expelled by someone with the flu (by coughing and sneezing) contains the flu virus.
Preventing the spread of the flu
The flu can survive for up to 48 hours outside of the body – i.e. on surfaces and objects – so hygiene plays a crucial part in preventing the spread of the flu virus.
- Keep your distance from infected people. Avoid close contact with others if you’re infected.
- Keep flu sufferers at home and away from visitors. Set up a sick room and make it ‘out of bounds’ to others in the home.
- Wash hands regularly with soap for 20 seconds, or use hand sanitiser regularly and always before preparing and eating food.
- Clean surfaces and objects such as telephones, doorknobs, and bathroom taps with disinfectant or a formula of one part bleach to 100 parts water.
- Don’t share beds, eating utensils, drink bottles, toothbrushes, etc with someone who has the flu.
- Always cough or sneeze into a tissue, and always put the tissue into the bin immediately afterwards. When out and about ensure you have Kleenex Pocket Pack tissues within reach. Teach children the simple 3-step Sneezesafe method to prevent them spreading germs
- Always wash hands after sneezing, coughing and nose-blowing. When out and about use Kleenex Anti-Bacterial Wet Wipes to kill 99.9% of germs on your hands
- Keep the home well-ventilated, even in winter. Viruses thrive in dry conditions.
A pandemic is an epidemic that affects the entire population. A flu pandemic occurs when a new strain of flu virus circulates.
The last flu pandemic to affect Australia was in 2009, when there were over 36,000 confirmed cases of swine flu and 186 deaths.
Find out more about pandemic influenza, including a history and an explanation of how a pandemic develops, at Australia’s Department of Health and Aging. Influenza in Australia is constantly monitored and under surveillance by the Department of Health and Aging.
HEALTH WARNING FOR FLU
It is a good idea to keep a record of temperature, fluid intake, and symptoms. Please see a doctor if any of the following occurs:
- A high temperature that won’t go down
- Noisy breathing or difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or stomach
- Confusion or disorientation
- Coughing up bloody or green phlegm
- Severe vomiting or vomiting that persists
- Severe ear pain
- Dehydration that can’t be corrected with fluid intake
- Fits or uncontrollable shaking
- Blue skin around the lips and/or fingertips
- Flu symptoms that improve and then suddenly become worse
Is it the flu or just a cold? Read about flu symptoms.