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Fact Sheet: Influenza
What is influenza?
Influenza is a serious, often debilitating illness which the affects the whole body. Influenza symptoms include fever, headaches, muscle aches and pains.1 Children’s symptoms
may also include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.2
Influenza can cause serious illness, particularly in young children, older adults and people with
Many people confuse the common cold with influenza; however, colds are much less severe.
How serious is seasonal influenza?
Each year an estimated 2,500 Australians die from influenza and its complications.3
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that worldwide 5-15% of the population are
affected by influenza each year, there are between three and five million cases of serious illness and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths.4
In Australia it is estimated that influenza annually causes 18,000 hospitalisations and over
Influenza in children
Influenza causes substantial illness and even death in children every year.6 Children are much
more likely to contract influenza in any given season (20-50% compared with 10-30% in adults),
with up to 70% of children contracting the virus during pandemic years.7
Healthy children under five years are more likely than adults to be hospitalised for influenza
complications.6,8 Nearly 1,500* Australian children are admitted to hospital for laboratory
Current Australian immunisation guidelines recommend annual influenza vaccination for anyone
who wishes to protect themselves,2 which includes children aged 6 months and older.
Mathematical modelling has shown that vaccinating children under five years could decrease the
incidence of influenza in the total population by 22-38%.10
How contagious is influenza?
Influenza is highly contagious, with children being a major transmitter of the virus.7 Studies have
An hour or more in the air in enclosed environments11
More than eight hours on hard surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic12
Up to five minutes on hands after transfer from other surfaces12
Who is at particular risk of complications from influenza?2
People at particular risk of severe complications from influenza are those with:
≥ 65 years of age, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island adults aged ≥ 15 years are also at increased risk of severe complications from influenza.
People who care for or are in close contact with at-risk individuals, are also advised to protect
themselves against influenza to avoid passing on the disease.
Many otherwise healthy Australians who can not afford to get influenza, such as single parents,
carers, those who are self-employed or people who can’t afford to take any time off work.
How can you reduce your risk of catching influenza?
There are a number of things people can do to protect themselves against influenza:
Vaccination is the single most effective way of protecting yourself against influenza infection
Hand washing and personal hygiene, such as trying not to touch your mouth or nose are also
Where possible, avoid crowds when influenza is prevalent
: In controlled clinical trials remedies such as vitamin C and Echinacea have failed to show any benefit in preventing influenza.
A new influenza vaccine with an updated formulation is produced every year, to ensure that Australians are given the best possible protection. The vaccine protects people against three strains of influenza which the WHO identifies as the most likely to cause outbreaks for that season.
The 2009 Southern Hemisphere influenza vaccine contains the following three influenza strains:13
A/(H1N1): an A/Brisbane/59/2007 (H1N1) - like strain
A/(H3N2): an A/Brisbane/10/2007 (H3N2) - like strain
For most parts of Australia influenza vaccination is best carried out in the autumn, before serious
outbreaks begin to occur.2 The majority of infections occur between July-September.14
In the far north of Australia influenza outbreaks can occur early in the year and vaccination
should be practiced as early as possible.
No vaccine is 100% effective. However, clinical trials have shown that influenza vaccination is
very effective in protecting against the severe consequences of infection. In healthy adults the vaccine has been shown to be 70-90% effective in protecting against infection.2
What can you do if you fall ill with influenza?
Influenza is highly contagious and can be spread for up to a day before symptoms appear and for
five days afterwards.2 Ways to avoid spreading influenza include:
Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
Avoid mixing with other people, particularly those in a high-risk category, while contagious
Don't return to work early, you could still be contagious
Antiviral medications that can limit the effect of influenza if they are taken early after onset of
symptoms (within the first two days of the illness) are available on prescription.
Therefore, it is important that you see your GP immediately if you believe that you are suffering
influenza and wish to reduce the duration of your illness.
* Based on population data that 105.8 per 100,000 Australians aged under five years are hospitalised due to influenza and the current population figure for that group is 1,371,051 (ABS accessed 5 March 2009).
If you would like any further information please contact:
National Institute of Clinical Studies. Flu Facts. Last viewed: March 2009. Available at:
The Australian Immunisation Handbook 9th Edition
2008. Available at:
Newall AT, Wood JG, MacIntyre CR. Influenza-related hospitalisation and death in Australians aged 50 years and older Vaccine
2008 April; 26
World Health Orgnization. Fact Sheet No 211
. Revised March 2003. Available at
Newall AT, Scuffham PA, Hodgkinson B. Economic report into the cost of influenza to the Australian health system. 2007 March. Available at:
Milne BG, Williams S, May M et al. Influenza A associated morbidity and mortality in a Paediatric Intensive Care Unit. CDI
Neuzil KM, Hohlbein C, Zhu Y. Illness Among Schoolchildren During Influenza Season. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med
Principi N, Esposito S, Gasparini R et al. Burden of influenza in healthy children and their households, Arch Dis Child
Newell AT, Scuffham PA. Influenza-related disease: The cost to the Australian healthcare system. Vaccine
2008; 26 (52):6818-23
10. Vynnycky E, Pitman R, Siddiqui R et al
. Estimating the impact of childhood influenza vaccination programmes in England and
11. Weber T.P., Stilianakis N.I. Inactivation of influenza A viruses in the environment and modes of transmission: A critical review.
Journal of Infection
(2008) 57, 361-373.
12. Bean B, Moore BM, Sterner B et al
. Survival of influenza virus on environmental surfaces. J Infect Dis
13. World Health Organization. Recommended composition of influenza virus vaccines for use in the 2009 southern hemisphere
. 2008. Available at
14. Australian Department of Health and Ageing. National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. Number of notifications of
influenza (laboratory confirmed), Australia, 2006 by age group and sex.
Cited 20/02/07. Available at:
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