- Advisory number:
- Date issued:
- 16 Jul 2023
- Issued by:
- Adjunct Clinical Professor Brett Sutton, Chief Health Officer
- Issued to:
- Victorian community and health professionals
- Influenza (flu) activity is continuing across Victoria, with almost half of cases occurring in children and adolescents under the age of 15 years.
- Influenza A cases in Victoria are likely peaking, but influenza B cases which are more common in young children, are increasing.
- Flu rates may increase, especially in children with return to school after the holidays.
- In most children, flu causes mild to moderate illness with symptoms such as fever and cough.
- Some children can develop severe illness, particularly babies and children with underlying medical conditions. Flu can increase the risk of rare invasive bacterial infections such as Group A streptococcal disease and meningococcal disease, so influenza vaccination can also help reduce this risk.
- Vaccination is key to protecting children from severe flu and is recommended yearly for everyone aged 6 months and over.
- It is never too late to vaccinate since the flu can circulate in the community all year round.
What is the issue?
Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract that can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications (including pneumonia). Influenza is caused by a virus so antibiotics cannot be used to treat it.
Victoria has reported more than 22,500 cases of flu this year, with almost half of these occurring in children or adolescents under the age of 15 years. However, less than 1 in 5 of this age group have been vaccinated against influenza this year.
Although the overall number of flu cases in Victoria decreased slightly in the fortnight to 9 July 2023, there has been a recent increase in cases of influenza B (one of the main strains of flu) in children. Influenza rates in children are expected to rise further as children return to school after the holidays.
Victoria recorded a substantial month-on-month increase in influenza-related emergency department presentations from May to June, for both children and adults. A similar trend has been observed in New South Wales.
Who is at risk?
In most children, flu causes a mild to moderate illness with symptoms such as fever and cough. However, some children can develop severe illness and complications, particularly babies and children with underlying medical conditions.
Symptoms and transmission
Symptoms of flu include fever, cough, body aches, tiredness, chills, sore throat, loss of appetite and a runny or stuffy nose. Children may also have vomiting or diarrhoea.
Some people can get very sick from the flu and may have complications such as lung infection (pneumonia) or severe breathing difficulties requiring urgent medical care and hospitalisation. Co-infection with other respiratory viruses (e.g. RSV) or bacterial infections can occur. These complications can occur in anyone but are most likely in those at higher risk of severe illness.
Signs of more serious flu infection in children include dehydration and difficulty breathing. For more information on signs of serious illness in children and when to see a doctor, see Royal Children’s Hospital factsheet.
The flu is usually spread by breathing in droplets from coughs and sneezes that contain the virus.
For the public
- Vaccination is key to protecting yourself and those around you from the flu. Flu vaccination reduces the chances of catching flu and can reduce symptoms and prevent complications in those who still become infected. It is never too late to vaccinate since influenza can circulate in the community all year round.
- Yearly flu vaccination is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and over.
- You can get a flu vaccine from your pharmacist, doctor (GP) or local council immunisation service. Pharmacists can administer the flu vaccines to anyone aged 5 years and over.
- Free flu vaccine is available for the following groups at higher risk of complications from flu:
- people aged 6 months to less than 5 years (can be given at the same time as childhood vaccines)
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and older
- pregnant women
- people aged 65 years and older
- people aged six months and older with medical conditions putting them at increased risk of severe flu and its complications.
- Some simple measures can protect your child and reduce the risk of spreading viruses to others:
- Keep children home from school and childcare if they have symptoms until they are well.
- Wash or sanitise hands frequently, especially after coughing, sneezing, and going to the toilet.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Wear a mask in crowded, indoor places.
- Most people can safely recover from the flu at home. Your doctor is the best person to help you if you or your child are unwell.
- If your child becomes more unwell or is showing signs of dehydration or is having difficulty breathing, you should go back to the GP urgently. Some children may need to be admitted to hospital.
For clinicians and immunisation providers
- Encourage seasonal flu vaccination for everyone aged 6 months and over, particularly in children and adolescents as coverage is low in these age groups.
- Ensure patients in groups at high-risk of serious illness from flu are offered a free vaccine.
- Information about vaccine eligibility criteria, clinical guidance, and other resources are available on the Department of Health’s
Reviewed 17 July 2023