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What is influenza?
Influenza (or ‘the flu’) is caused by three types of influenza virus – A, B and C that infect the respiratory system. Influenza is contagious and is spread by coughing, sneezing and direct contact with an infected person or by touching a contaminated surface. Extended periods in an enclosed poorly ventilated space with an infected person increases the chances of getting influenza. You can be infectious around a day before symptoms appear.
Influenza illness can include any or all of these symptoms: fever, muscle aches, headache, lack of energy, dry cough, sore throat, and possibly a runny nose. The fever and body aches can last 3-5 days and the cough and lack of energy may last for two or more weeks.
Although people with underlying health conditions are most at risk from influenza associated complications, previously healthy people can still become seriously ill and even die.
Influenza continues to be a major threat to public health worldwide because of its ability to spread rapidly through populations. Anyone from the age of 6 months on can be vaccinated against influenza. The vaccine is fully funded by PHARMAC for certain groups of people who are considered to be at greater risk of complications from influenza. The vaccine is recommended (although not funded) particularly for those who are in close contact with people at high-risk of complications to reduce the risk of spread of the virus.
How can I tell the difference between a cold and influenza?
Influenza, commonly called the flu, can be a serious illness that is sometimes fatal. Infection with the influenza virus may lead to a stay in hospital for any age group but particularly if you are elderly or have an ongoing medical condition. Influenza can make an existing medical condition, such as asthma or diabetes, a lot worse.
Even if you do not end up in hospital, influenza can keep you in bed for a week or more, preventing you from doing work,sport or just about anything that requires leaving the house
Influenza is different from a cold virus. A cold virus only affects the nose, throat and the upper chest and lasts for a few days, whereas influenza can be a serious illness that affects the whole body and can last up to a week or more.
Can the influenza vaccine give you influenza (the flu)?
No. You cannot get influenza from the vaccine, as it does not contain any live viruses. Some people may experience mild reactions such as muscle aches or headaches for a short time after immunisation, and they may think this is the flu – but it’s not.
I’m fit and healthy, so do I need an annual flu shot?
Healthy adults, children and infants can still become seriously ill and even die.
Also, healthy people can spread influenza to others around them.
Although people with underlying medical conditions, like asthma or diabetes, are most at risk from flu-associated complications, previously fit and healthy people have ended up in hospital or died from this serious illness.
When should people get vaccinated?
Vaccinate as soon as possible after the vaccine becomes available (vaccine is usually available from March). It takes up to two weeks to develop immunity. Ideally, you should be vaccinated before the main influenza activity in May to September. High risk individuals can be immunised any time during the influenza season. The vaccine is only free until the 31 December.
Where can I get the vaccination?
Eligible people can get a free vaccination from their General Practice, and it is usually the practice nurse who administers the vaccine. The vaccine is injected into the upper arm. For children 6 months to 15 months, it is injected into the upper thigh.
From 2017 some community pharmacies provide free influenza vaccinations to:
Those not eligible for free vaccination: influenza vaccination is available from:
Your local General Practice
Accident and Medical CenterWorkplace/Occupational Health ServiceSome Pharmacies
Please contact your provider regarding vaccination charges.
Can the vaccination be given to children?
Yes. The vaccination is licensed for children aged 6 months and over. The influenza vaccine is free for children aged four years and under who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness or have a history of significant respiratory illness or have other medical conditions that increase the risk of acquiring influenza or developing complications from influenza. Check with your doctor or nurse for details.
How do they know which influenza viruses will affect New Zealand?
The World Health Organization (WHO) takes influenza very seriously. Each year the WHO Information Surveillance Network studies the different strains of influenza and monitors their movements around the globe. They then decide which strains of the virus are likely to emerge in different parts of the world and develop vaccinations for them.
Which strains of the influenza virus are covered by this year’s vaccine?
The influenza virus has many types. Each year the World Health Organization makes recommendations for the strains that are in the influenza vaccine and the strains that should be circulating around New Zealand.
The funded quadrivalent influenza vaccines in 2018 offer protection against the following influenza strains:
• A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
• A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016 (H3N2)-like virus
• B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus
• B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus
The A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016 (H3N2)-like virus in this year's vaccine is broadly matched to the strain being referred to in the media as 'Australian flu'. This strain circulated in the southern hemisphere during winter 2017 and severely affected the northern hemisphere during their 2017–2018 winter.
How safe is the vaccine?
The vaccine cannot give you influenza as it only contains fragments of the virus. The vaccine stimulates the immune system to make antibodies that protect against circulating viruses. Most people have no reaction to the vaccine. Occasionally the site where the vaccination was given is red or sore for a day or two. Some people may feel unwell for a day or two. These are normal responses to the immunisation.
We’ve provided a copy of the After Immunisation Information for Adults and After Immunisation Information for Parents or Caregivers to download.
How long after vaccination does it take to start providing protection?
It takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to start providing protection.
Does the vaccination contain thiomersal or mercury?
No. It does not contain thiomersal (or any other mercury product).
Ask your healthcare professional about influenza immunisation
Make sure you give yourself and your family the best protection against influenza.
Or for more information phone 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863)
Influenza vaccines are prescription medicines. They contain inactivated strains of influenza vaccine for the prevention of influenza Types A & B. Please read the brochure or consent form and talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about the benefits and any possible side effects and check the Consumer Medicine Information [CMI] or data sheet of these vaccines at www.medsafe.govt.nz. For More information on the vaccine call 0800 IMMUNE (466 863). Copyright © 2014 Immunisation Advisory Centre. All Rights Reserved.