Influenza (Flu)



  • Flu is a viral infection of the respiratory tract.
  • Flu symptoms are more severe than those of a cold and tend to last longer.
  • Antibiotics do not treat viral infections, and will not help you recover from the flu.
  • Having an annual flu vaccination is the best way to reduce your chances of getting ill with the flu.

Flu is not the same as the common cold. It is caused by completely different viruses (the influenza viruses A and B). The flu tends to make your whole body ache, whereas colds usually affect only your nose and throat.

Flu is most common from late autumn to early spring but you can catch flu at any time of the year.

Flu can be prevented by vaccination as well as good hygiene practices, such as regularly washing your hands, and sneezing or coughing into a tissue.

What are the symptoms of flu?

  • Fever (ie, a temperature of 38.5 °C or higher), and chills (feeling cold or shivering)
  • Headache
  • Runny or blocked nose, and sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Dry or chesty cough
  • Tiredness, aching muscles and joint or limb pain
  • Loss of appetite, and upset stomach or diarrhoea.

[insert graphic of sick person with flu symptoms around them -- to come from Millie.

caption: Flu symptoms are more severe and tend to last longer than those of a cold]

How long will my flu symptoms last?

Your flu symptoms will usually be at their worst after 2–3 days and will generally last for 5–8 days. However, some of the symptoms of flu (eg, cough and tiredness) can last for as long as 2–3 weeks.

Most people who are generally healthy won’t need to see their doctor. Your immune system will fight your infection and your symptoms will usually clear up on their own.

You should try to rest, maintain a good fluid intake, and manage your symptoms. This will help you recover and prevent dehydration.

Read about about medicines and treatments for relieving the symptoms of the flu.

See your doctor if your symptoms are not getting better or if they become worse

Symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe vomiting or fever with a rash can be emergency warning signs.

While anyone can get sick with the flu, some people are more likely to develop complications (such as pneumonia) and should visit their doctor when they become ill.

People at risk of serious illness and complications

The flu (influenza) can be a serious disease in some people, and its complications (eg, pneumonia) can be life-threatening.

People who are at risk of catching the flu or developing complications from the flu should receive a yearly flu vaccine. The vaccine is slightly different each year to target the active flu viruses.

See Vaccination for the flu for information on who should receive the flu vaccine.

Find out more

Related information - flu


19 Jul 2016 The flu does not usually require treatment if you are normally healthy. If symptoms are severe or your risk of complication is high, antivirals may be prescribed. Learn more about treatments for flu here
(Media release)
08 Jul 2016 With cold and flu season underway, NPS MedicineWise has released an interactive online case study tailored by audience to GPs, pharmacists and nurses on otitis media and antibiotic prescribing.
27 Jun 2016 Flu (or influenza) is caused by viruses, so antibiotics won’t help. Antibiotics do not kill viruses. Antibiotics only treat infections or diseases caused by bacteria.
27 Jun 2016 The flu virus is very easily spread between people. Its spread can be minimised through good hygiene. Find out more.
26 Jun 2016 Vaccinations for flu (influenza): who needs them and who is eligible
09 May 2016 Panadol Sinus Pain & Congestion Relief Caplets is a brand of medicine. Find out about side effects, who can and who shouldn’t use Panadol Sinus Pain & Congestion Relief Caplets by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information. See our tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.
05 Jan 2016 Tamiflu Suspension is a brand of medicine. Find out about side effects, who can and who shouldn’t use Tamiflu Suspension by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information. See our tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.
24 Jun 2015 Antibiotics are not always necessary for treating coughs, colds and flu. Find out how you can manage your cough, cold or flu without antibiotics.
(Media release)
21 May 2015 The 'Winter is Coming' initiative urges people to make a renewed pledge to help fight antibiotic resistance this cold and flu season. Read more.
(Media release)
12 May 2015 Influenza (flu) vaccine formulations available this winter include a trivalent (three strain) vaccine and a quadrivalent (four strain) vaccine. Read more.