Influenza facts

Influenza Facts

You can spread the flu to people, including your family/whanau and friends, who are at most risk of complications

While general health affects the severity of an infection, the influenza virus is contagious and anyone can become infected.

Influenza is more than just a ‘bad cold’.  Although some of the symptoms are the same, influenza is usually much more severe.  Symptoms of influenza include a cough, headache, fever or chills, body aches and pains, fatigue and generally feeling miserable.

Influenza, commonly called the flu, can be a serious illness that is sometimes fatal.

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.

The flu spreads from person to person. The influenza virus is transferred in droplets of moisture expelled through breathing, coughing and sneezing.  The virus is spread when a person touches any droplets which contain the influenza virus and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands.

Influenza can affect anyone, no matter how fit, active and healthy they may be.  Although older people and people with underlying health conditions are most at risk from influenza associated complications, previously healthy people can still become seriously ill an even die.

We cannot predict from year to year how severe the influenza season may be.  The flu virus can change yearly and new strains can emerge to which people are not immune.

To maintain the most effective protection against influenza, annual immunisation is required.

  • protection lessens over time
  • each year influenza can be caused by different strains of influenza viruses that are not represented in the previous year’s vaccine

It takes around two weeks to develop immunity once vaccinated.  Ideally, immunisation should be carried out before the peak of influenza activity around June to August.  People can be immunised at any time during the influenza season, the vaccine is only free for those in the high-risk groups until the 31 December.

Seasonal influenza vaccinations are recognised as being the single most effective way of reducing the impact of seasonal influenza – especially for those most at risk of complications.

 Click on this link to open the FLU can be anywhere information brochure.

Influenza survivor, Community clinic nurse Sam Pohe’s job was to endorse the flu vaccine to her high-risk patients but, as she lay in a coma at death’s door, her body riddled with complications deriving from influenza, it became obvious she’d forgotten to get one herself.

The Whangarei 45-year-old was usually one to practise what she preached but, last year, got so busy vaccinating her patients, she forgot to get immunised herself. This is Sam's story on YouTube - (courtesy of Northland District Health Board - Media Release

The difference between influenza and a common cold

Influenza A common cold
Sudden onset of illness.
Moderate to severe illness
Mild illness
Fever (usually high) Mild fever
Headache (may be severe) Mild headache (congested sinuses)
Sore throat May have a sore throat
Runny or stuffy nose Runny or stuffy nose
Dry cough, may become moist Sometimes a cough
Muscle aches Muscle aches are uncommon
Chills, shivering  
Stomach upset, vomiting or diarrhoea  
Can suffer severe complications (eg pneumonia)  

When should I visit a doctor if I think I have influenza?

Women who are pregnant, children and adults with chronic health conditions, and adults aged 65 years or older should visit their doctor as soon as they think they have influenza. Early treatment with antiviral medication may make the illness less severe. 

Other people may be able to manage their influenza symptoms without visiting their doctor. However, people who are worried about how serious their symptoms are, people haven't improved after two weeks and those who were starting to feel better and then suddenly feel worse or develop a new symptom should also visit their doctor.

Use this link to visit the  Health Navigator NZ influenza webpage for more information about when infants, children and adults with influenza should visit a doctor. 

Stop the spread of the flu

If you are unwell, stay at home until you are better.

Follow basic hygiene practices:

  • Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds and dry them for 20 seconds – or use an alcohol-based hand rub
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • Cough or sneeze in to your elbow if a tissue is not readily available
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Don’t share drinks
  • Avoid crowded places

Flu can be anywhere.  Get immunised.  Protect yourself. Protect your family. Protect your community. Immunisation may be FREE for you.  Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist today.

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