The flu is often mistaken for the common cold but it is in fact, very different. You are much more unwell, often missing a week or more of work or school and occasionally ending up in hospital with a complication such as pneumonia.
Symptoms include body aches and pains, fevers, sore throat, dry cough, headaches, runny nose, vomiting and diarrhoea.
The flu or influenza is a viral illness spread by sneezing and coughing and the particles which come out of our mouth and nose when we do this. It can live outside the human body on surfaces such as a kitchen bench or toy for up to 2 days. People with the flu are most infectious before they develop any symptoms and tend to stay infectious for 5 – 7 days.
There are a few groups in our community who are most at risk of getting seriously unwell from the flu and they are provided a free flu vaccine from the Government. They include the very young (< 5 years), the older population (> 65 years), pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, immunosuppressed Australians. eg. diabetics, those undergoing chemotherapy and those with chronic medical conditions.
Even if you are not one of these high-risk groups it is recommended that you receive the vaccine to help achieve herd immunity or a level of immunity within the community whereby the virus is unable to spread.
The influenza virus is constantly mutating and as such there are many different strains. This means that you need to get a booster vaccine every year to cover you for the coming flu season. In Australia, we base our vaccine constituents on the strains of Influenza we have witnessed in the European winter.
So, how does the flu vaccine actually work and can it make you sick?
The flu shot works by injecting tiny parts of the flu virus protein into your body and allowing your body to recognise these as foreign and create antibodies to them or an immune response. This means that when your body is re-exposed to the actual flu virus, it will recognise it and mount a full-blown response to fight off the virus.
It is not live vaccine injected into your body. Therefore, it is not possible to get the flu virus from the vaccine.
It is, however, possible to get some flu like symptoms from the vaccine as your body creates an immune response. This is GOOD and means the vaccine is working. These symptoms are usually minor and last less than a few days. They can include body aches, tiredness and a slight fever. This occurs in 5% of people. There can be other more immediate side effects of the injection itself including injection site redness, swelling or mild pain.
It takes around two weeks for the vaccine to become effective against the flu.
Can I still get my COVID vaccine if I get my Flu shot?
ABSOLUTELY! You just need to make sure that there are 14 days between your flu shot and your covid injection.
1. NPS Medicine Wise. (07/04/20) https://www.nps.org.au/consumers/the-flu-shot-explained#what-is-the-flu? 13/04/21