Winter wellbeing and flu

Winter wellbeing

Influenza (the ‘flu’)

Influenza, commonly known as ‘flu’, is a highly contagious viral infection. People can contract the flu at any time throughout the year but the number of cases usually increase during the winter months, often referred to as the ‘flu season’. Between 5 to 20% of the population is infected with flu each year, which is spread person-to-person from coughs and sneezes, and can cause life-threatening complications.

Symptoms of flu

It can take 1 to 3 days to develop symptoms after coming into contact with the flu virus. The most common flu symptoms are:

  • fever and chills
  • a cough, sore throat or runny nose
  • muscle aches, joint pains, headaches and fatigue (feeling tired)
  • nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea (more common in children than adults).

Web’s most asked questions about the flu

Vaccination is your best protection

To protect yourself and those around you against the flu this season – get your yearly flu vaccination. Each year the flu vaccine changes to cover the latest strains to better protect you and your family from flu. The best time to get vaccinated is before winter and the start of flu season. The flu vaccination is recommended for everyone aged 6 month and older.

Visit our flu immunisation page for more information.

If you are sick

Stay home if you are sick and remember to wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, and put used tissues in the bin straight after use.

If you have flu-like symptoms and need medical care, you can visit your local GP or one of the ACT’s free Walk-in Centres.

Stop the spread of flu

People with influenza are generally infectious for 5 days after symptoms first appear, though children and those with weakened immune systems may be infectious for longer. Influenza virus is spread easily from person to person through small droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Droplets can settle onto surfaces (such as door handles and hand rails), and infect other people when they touch those surfaces.

Practise good hygiene

If you become unwell with flu-like symptoms there are several things you can do to help stop spreading the flu to others. These include:

  • washing your hands regularly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitiser for 20 to 30 seconds
  • cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue or your inner elbow when and wash your hands afterwards
  • discard used tissues immediately into a bin
  • avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • stay away from childcare, school, work and other social activities until you are well.

Practise good hand hygiene

By washing your hands regularly you can protect yourself, your family and the community from getting sick. Washing your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitiser kills viruses that may be on your hands. Always use soap and water if your hands are visibly soiled.

Washing your hands property takes about 20 to 30 seconds. Follow these steps:

  • wet your hands
  • put soap on your hands
  • rub soap over your hands and don’t forget to scrub between your fingers, under your nails and the top of your hands
  • rinse your hands under water
  • dry your hands.

See our posters:

 Aged care

Flu, influenza-like illness (ILI), and viral gastroenteritis (‘gastro’) infections occur across the ACT community, especially during the winter months. Elderly people, particularly those living in aged care facilities, can be more vulnerable to these infections due to underlying medical conditions or medications that suppress their immune systems. A flu, ILI or gastro infection in an elderly resident may lead to functional decline, hospitalisation, and in some cases death.

Aged care facilities can be challenging environments for infection control due to staff, residents and visitors moving throughout the facility and interacting with each other, as well as residents sharing communal meals and other group activities.

It is important to be proactive to minimise transmission of ILI, flu and gastro in aged care settings. For ways to protect elderly residents, see the ‘preventing spread of infections in aged care’ section below.

Occasionally, outbreaks of ILI, flu and gastro occur in aged care facilities. When outbreaks occur, the facility is required to report these to ACT Health and implement outbreak precautions.

For further information about managing outbreaks in aged care facilities, please see our Influenza-like illness outbreaks page.

Preventing the spread of infections in aged care

Family and friends should not visit an aged care facility when they are unwell with any respiratory or gastro symptoms. Residents with symptoms will need to be isolated to prevent spreading the infection to other residents in the facility and unwell staff should be excluded from work (see the Influenza-like illness outbreaks section for further details).

Cough and sneeze etiquette as well as hand hygiene should be promoted to residents, staff and visitors all year and especially during the cooler months. The following posters can be displayed around aged care facilities:

Where to get medical advice

If you need medical advice about flu symptoms or the flu vaccine, you should visit your GP or a free Walk-in Centre in the first instance.

If you have severe symptoms such as breathing difficulty or chest pain, call 000 immediately or go to your nearest Emergency Department.

Walk-in Centres

Walk-in Centres are free and provide treatment and health advice for one-off, minor injuries and illnesses. You don’t need to make an appointment.

Walk-in Centres are located in Tuggeranong, Belconnen, Gungahlin and Weston Creek and are open 7 days a week between 7:30am to 10pm. A fifth Walk-in Centre will be opening in Dickson in late 2020. Please visit our Walk-in Centre page for more information.

GP

Your GP provides the best care because they know your medical history and can refer you to additional healthcare professionals if needed. GPs may also offer extended opening hours in the evenings and on weekends.

Please see Find a Health Service for more information.

Healthdirect

You can access health advice over the phone by calling Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 or using Healthdirect’s Online Symptom Checker.

This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

National Home Doctor Service

The National Home Doctor Service offers access to after-hours bulk-billing GPs by calling 137 425 (13 SICK).

Flu reporting in the ACT

The ACT Health Directorate conducts surveillance for laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in the ACT. Each influenza season (approximately June to Oct), the Disease Surveillance Unit regularly prepares an influenza report which includes current data on influenza notifications in the ACT.

Past influenza reports are published on the ACT influenza reports page.

Page last updated on: 8 Apr 2020