Department of Health

Key messages

  • Influenza can be serious.
  • Influenza is highly contagious.
  • You can’t get influenza from the influenza vaccine.
  • You need the influenza vaccine every year.

Influenza can be serious

The flu is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications, including pneumonia.

The flu isn’t like the common cold, it can hit quickly and last for a few weeks, meaning time off work or school and staying away from family and friends. For vulnerable Victorians, like young children, the elderly and people with a weakened immune system, the flu can have serious and devastating outcomes.

If you are around infants, pregnant women, older people or immunocompromised people while you have influenza, you are putting them at serious risk.

Each year the flu affects thousands of Victorians and puts an enormous amount of pressure on our hospitals and health system. Over 3,500 avoidable deaths occur in Australia every year from complications of seasonal flu.

It takes an average of two weeks to recover from flu. That’s a long time for work and chores to pile up.

If you get the influenza vaccine, you can:

  • avoid spreading influenza to at-risk people
  • avoid getting ill yourself
  • avoid having to put your life on hold.

Influenza is highly contagious

Influenza spreads from person to person in almost invisible droplets from saliva, sneezes, coughs and runny noses. The flu virus can live on surfaces for two days and is spread when people touch them. Touching an object that is contaminated with influenza virus and then touching your own eyes, nose or mouth or touching someone else can spread influenza. People are usually contagious a few days before their symptoms begin, and for up to one week after symptoms start.

You can’t get influenza from the influenza vaccine

The flu shot is safe and effective and doesn’t contain any live virus, so it can’t give you the flu.

Some people may have had the experience of 'flu-like symptoms' with a previous flu shot. These may be mild reactions to the vaccine, or a different cold virus or (unluckily) they might have already been incubating flu when they got their shot. The vaccine gives protection about two weeks after the shot.

Some people who have had the vaccine may still get influenza, but their illness is usually much less severe.

There are many illnesses that can cause flu-like symptoms, and the influenza vaccine won’t protect against these. Because of this, it’s important to maintain other protective measures, including good hygiene.

You need the influenza vaccine every year

The flu shot changes every year to match different strains of the flu that are circulating. Even if you had the flu shot last year, it’s important that you get it every year to make sure you’re protected for when flu season hits. People who are vaccinated against influenza every year are better protected than those who are not vaccinated.

Influenza vaccine is free for at-risk groups

All Victorians six months or older are encouraged to get an annual flu shot. Influenza vaccine is free to staff who attend the advertised sessions. You can also do it in work time, saving about $20 for the vaccine plus the cost and time of a visit to the doctor.

Some groups in our community are more vulnerable to the flu virus and can also suffer more serious complications from the flu. They are eligible for a free flu vaccination:

  • children younger than five years of age
  • pregnant women
  • people aged over 65
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • people with chronic medical conditions.

Anyone in these at-risk groups with flu-like symptoms should speak to their doctor as soon as possible.

Reviewed 12 May 2023


Contact details

Opening hours:  9am to 5pm Monday to Friday

Immunisation Unit Department of Health

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