Viruses like influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 are around. Keep safe this winter by knowing the signs and symptoms to look out for.
What are the symptoms of flu, COVID and RSV winter viruses?
People with flu often experience some or all the following symptoms:
- Fever and chills
- Cough, sore throat and runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle aches, joint pains, headaches and fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea (more common in children than adults)
Symptoms of may last for more than a week. Some people only have mild symptoms for a few days, particularly if they have some immunity from a previous infection or vaccination. Other people can get very sick from the flu and may have complications such as lung infection (pneumonia) or severe breathing difficulties requiring hospitalisation. These complications can occur in anyone but are most likely in those at higher risk of severe illness.
How are respiratory viruses spread?
Mostly spread by droplets made when people with flu cough or sneeze. It can also be spread by touching a surface or object that virus droplets have landed on from an infected person. People with influenza can spread it to others before they are sick as well as while they are sick. If you have flu symptoms, or have been diagnosed with flu, it is important to stay home and avoid contact with others until your symptoms have gone.
How do I protect myself and others?
Get your annual flu vaccine.
- Everyone aged 6 months and over is recommended to get an annual flu vaccine to protect themselves from influenza.
- People at higher risk of severe illness from flu may be eligible for a free flu vaccine under the National Immunisation Program.
- Flu vaccination for those people who regularly come into close contact with people at higher risk of severe illness from flu (such as health and residential care workers and family members) will help protect those at higher risk.
- A flu vaccine is needed every year as influenza virus strains change (mutate) constantly. A vaccine is prepared each year to best match the strains predicted for the coming flu season. Vaccination is very effective in preventing serious illness from the influenza virus. Practise good hygiene.
- Avoid others who are sick.
- Stay at home when sick.
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Clean hands regularly with hand sanitiser or soap and running water for 20 seconds.
- If you are sick, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- If you do need to leave home when you are sick, wear a mask and avoid contact with people at higher risk of severe illness.
How can I manage flu safely?
Stay at home and reduce risk to others.
If you are sick with flu, stay at home and avoid close contact with other people. Keep sick children away from school and other activities. To avoid infecting others, stay at home for at least 24 hours after your fever has resolved and until you are feeling well. This is especially important if you visit people at higher risk of severe illness, including pregnant women, infants, older people and people in hospital, residential aged or disability care.
Start antiviral medicines early if you are eligible.
People at higher risk of severe illness from flu may be eligible for antiviral medicines such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu®). Antiviral medicines may reduce severe illness, hospitalisation and death from flu if taken early in the illness. It is important to contact your doctor as soon as possible to determine if you are able to take antiviral medicines. To be most effective, antivirals should be taken within 48 hours of when symptoms start.
Monitor your symptoms.
Most symptoms can be managed with:
- Get plenty of rest
- Regular paracetamol and ibuprofen to relieve pain and fevers as needed (children under 16 years of age must not be given aspirin-containing medications)
- Staying hydrated with regular sips of water.
If you experience any of the following symptoms call Triple Zero (000). If you get any of the following symptoms call Triple Zero (000) immediately and tell the ambulance staff, you could have flu.
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
- Chest pain or pressure lasting longer than ten minutes.
- Confusion or sudden dizziness
- Persistent vomiting.
If you have flu and have health questions that are not a medical emergency:
Contact your doctor or Health direct 24/7 for free on 1800 022 222 for fast, expert health advice from registered nurses.