Understanding Flu

The flu, also known as influenza, is a respiratory viral infection caused by the influenza virus. The virus affects the nose, sinuses, throat, airways, and lungs, causing symptoms that can affect the whole body. The symptoms can range from mild, that resolve within a few days, to life-threatening complications. The flu can affect people of all ages and is spread when respiratory secretions pass from an infected person to someone else through touching, coughing, and sneezing.

There are different strains of influenza viruses, and they can change every year. Because influenza viruses evolve so quickly, strains within flu vaccines are updated every year. Consequently, health professionals recommend getting the flu vaccine annually to safeguard yourself and prevent the spread of the virus.

The flu is not to be mistaken for the common cold or COVID-19. Although it often exhibits similar symptoms, such as runny nose, fever, sore throat, and headache, it is important to remember that the flu vaccine does not protect against the cold or COVID-19 as they are caused by different viruses.

A flu vaccination will give protection against the flu. Vaccination, before the flu season starts in June, is recommended for all Australians over 6 months of age. Amcal pharmacists are trained experts in administering flu vaccinations. Your flu vaccination consultation involves:

  • Flu vaccine administration (available for anyone over 10 years)
  • Prevention and lifestyle advice on how to avoid catching the flu, cold, and COVID-19
  • Tips on how to get well and stay well if you catch the flu

Book in a Flu Vaccination for your best defence against the flu. By getting your flu vaccination you’re not just protecting yourself, you’re also protecting vulnerable people who cannot receive the vaccine themselves.

Flu season

The flu season is a period characterised by the prevalence of an outbreak of influenza (flu). The season occurs during the cold half of the year in each hemisphere. This is because the virus survives better in cold weather which increases the chance of it passing from person to person. Around 8% of the Australian population catches the flu each season (usually in winter). There are many types of influenza viruses, so the number of people suffering flu-related illnesses can vary widely from season to season.

Pharmacies play a growing role in slowing the spread of influenza. As Australia’s most trusted pharmacy brand, Amcal leads the way with safe, secure, and private flu vaccination and consultation services.


Identifying Flu

Flu can cause mild to severe illness, which can at times lead to hospitalisation. Unlike the common cold, flu symptoms tend to appear suddenly. Within a few hours, a person may transition from feeling fine to feeling miserable. Flu symptoms are similar to cold symptoms but are usually more severe and last longer. A high fever occurs more commonly with the flu than with a cold, and it often appears before other symptoms.

Because symptoms of the flu, cold and COVID-19 are similar, the difference between them cannot be made based on symptoms alone. Testing is needed to tell what the illness is and to confirm a diagnosis. If you or a loved one experiences flu-like symptoms, it is time to get tested, stay home, and stop the spread.


Signs and Symptoms

  • Runny/blocked nose
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • High fevers
  • Headache
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Aching muscles and joints

Timeline of symptoms

Days 1–3: Sudden appearance of fever, headache, muscle pain and weakness, dry cough, sore throat, and sometimes a stuffy nose.

Day 4: Fever and muscle aches decrease. Hoarse, dry or sore throat, cough, and possible mild chest discomfort become more noticeable. You may feel tired or flat.

Day 8: Symptoms decrease. Cough and tiredness may last one to two weeks or more


Prevention - how to avoid catching and spreading the flu

The tips below will help you learn about actions you can take to protect yourself and others from flu and help stop the spread of germs:

  • Avoid close contact: Keep your distance from others when you feel sick and avoid close contact with those who are sick.
  • Stay home: Stay home from work, school, and non-essential outings.
  • Cover when coughing or sneezing: Always cover your mouth and nose when unwell. Coughing and sneezing are the primary means of transmission of influenza, COVID-19, and other respiratory viruses.
  • Wash your hands: Keep your hands free from germs by washing with soap and hot water or use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth, eyes: Germs have easy access to infect your body via the eyes, mouth, and nose.
  • Get into healthy habits: Establish cleaning and disinfecting routines at home, work, and school. This is particularly important when someone is ill, or a virus is in the air.
  • Get vaccinated: A flu vaccine will offer protection against flu by helping train your immune system to make antibodies to fight the influenza virus.

Treatment of flu

Medicines

In most cases, over-the-counter medications will provide symptom relief until your body’s immune system fights off the virus. Medicines that can help include:

  • Decongestants
  • Antihistamines
  • Cough suppressants, expectorants & mucolytics
  • Fever and pain relievers
  • Medicated inhalations
  • Lozenges & gargles
  • Saline
  • Complementary medicines e.g. vitamin C, echinacea, zinc

Where the infection is serious, antiviral medications may be used. These need to be prescribed by your doctor and if started in the first 2 days after the onset of symptoms, can shorten the length of your illness. Ask your Amcal pharmacist for advice and more information about how to manage your symptoms.

Self-management

  • Get plenty of sleep and rest, this helps your immune system fight infection
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help thin mucus and prevent dehydration.
  • Breathe in steam (e.g., from inhalations, vaporizers, showers, baths) to loosen mucus.
  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables that a high in vitamin C - this will help to boost your immune system and reduce the severity and duration of symptoms
  • Avoid cigarette smoke – it can make symptoms worse

Frequently asked questions

  • Age. Seasonal influenza tends to target children 6 months to 5 years old, and the elderly.
  • Living or working conditions. People who live or work in heavily populated places with close interpersonal contact are at greater risk of contracting the flu virus. E.g. nursing homes, military barracks, office buildings.
  • Weakened immune system.  Certain health issues and medications can weaken the immune system. This can make it easier for you to catch the flu and may also increase your risk of developing complications.
  • Chronic illnesses.  Chronic conditions, including lung diseases such as asthma and COPD, diabetes, heart disease, and kidney, liver, or blood diseases, may increase your risk of influenza complications.
  • Pregnancy.  Pregnant women are more likely to develop influenza complications, particularly in the second and third trimesters. This is because their bodies go through changes that affect their immune system, heart, and lungs.
  • Obesity.  People with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more have an increased risk of flu complications.

Most people who get the flu will recover within a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications as a result of the flu.

These could include:

  • Bronchitis
  • Ear infection
  • Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart wall)
  • Myositis (inflammation and damage to muscle fibres)
  • Pericarditis (inflammation of the saclike tissue around the heart)
  • Pneumonia
  • Sinus infection

The flu (influenza) vaccine contains inactive particles that stimulate the body’s natural immune response to build resistance to infection. Each year, the strains within the flu vaccine are updated on the recommendation of the World Health Organisation based on global information.

The best time to get the vaccination is before the start of the flu season (typically flu season is between June and September), as optimal protection occurs in the first three to four months after getting the shot. There is a lag period of two to three weeks as the body creates antibodies to protect you against the flu. It is best to plan and get the flu vaccine a couple of months prior to the expected beginning of flu season. The best time is at the end of April or early May, but that does not mean you can’t get a flu vaccine earlier or later. Always speak to your Amcal pharmacist if you are unsure or if you require more information.

The influenza vaccine can cause side effects. Common side effects may include: 

  • Localised pain, redness, itching, and swelling at the injection site
  • Drowsiness or tiredness 
  • Muscle aches
  • Low-grade fever

These symptoms usually resolve within two days but if you have any concerns, please speak to your Amcal pharmacist.

In some instances, there may also be a risk of other side effects such as fainting. If you have Guillain-Barre syndrome, there may be a risk of neurological symptoms. If either of these is relevant for you, please inform your Amcal pharmacist before your vaccine.

Both the flu and the common cold are respiratory illnesses, although they are caused by different viruses. The two illnesses share similar symptoms, such as runny or blocked nose, sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, and fatigue, so it can be difficult to tell the difference between them. Influenza symptoms are generally worse than the common cold.

People with colds are likely to experience symptoms that do not result in other serious health complications. Flu, on the other hand, can lead to pneumonia, other bacterial infections, or other serious complications.

A variety of non-prescription medicines can help relieve cold and flu symptoms. Some cold and flu medicines are not suitable for young children or pregnant/breastfeeding women, and those with other medical conditions or taking other medications. Always ask a pharmacist for advice. Medicines that can help relieve cold and flu symptoms include:

  • Decongestants: Helpful for a blocked nose. Available as syrups, tablets, sprays, and drops.
  • Antihistamines: May help to relieve runny nose, sneezing, and dry cough
  • Cough suppressants: Can relieve dry cough, but should not be used for ‘chesty’ cough
  • Expectorants & Mucolytics: May loosen and thin mucus in the nose, sinuses, and airways
  • Fever and pain relievers: Known to relieve headache, sore throat, aches, and fever (e.g. paracetamol and ibuprofen)
  • Medicated inhalations: Help to clear a blocked nose (e.g. menthol, eucalyptus)
  • Lozenges & gargles: Help to relieve a sore throat
  • Saline (salt-water): May help loosen and remove mucus in the nose and sinus.
  • Complementary medicines: Boost the immune system and reduce the severity of symptoms (e.g. vitamin c, zinc, and echinacea)

Most people who are generally healthy will not need to see their doctor for the flu. Their immune system will fight the infection and their symptoms will usually clear up on their own.

See your doctor if you have experienced flu symptoms for more than 14 days. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • sudden dizziness
  • confusion/disorientation
  • severe vomiting
  • fever combined with a rash.

Whilst most people won’t need a visit to the doctor if they catch the flu, it is important to remember that if you are experiencing any flu-like symptoms, get tested for COVID-19 and stay home until you receive your results. Speak to your Amcal pharmacist about the right prevention and treatment options for you.


Just ask Amcal

Influenza is a viral disease that causes widespread illness every year. Vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect you and others from serious diseases caused by influenza.


The flu is a highly contagious virus. By getting vaccinated against influenza, you can also help protect other people, especially people who are cannot be vaccinated such as children under 6 months. The more people who are vaccinated in your community, the less likely the disease will spread.

If you think you have the flu, try to rest, maintain good fluid intake, and manage your symptoms. It is also important to get tested for COVID-19 and stay home until you receive your results. Speak with your Amcal pharmacist about the right prevention and treatment options for you.

For more information about the flu, vaccinations and how to keep well and stay well, speak to your Amcal pharmacist.

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