Winter wellbeing and flu

Influenza (commonly known as ‘flu’) is a highly contagious viral infection. Flu can occur at any time throughout the year, but the number of cases usually increases during the winter months (often referred to as the ‘flu season’). Flu is spread person-to-person from coughs and sneezes and can cause life-threatening complications. To protect yourself and those around you against the flu this season, get your yearly flu vaccination – it’s your best protection against the flu.

Influenza (commonly known as ‘flu’) is a highly contagious viral infection. Flu can occur at any time throughout the year, but the number of cases usually increases during the winter months (often referred to as the ‘flu season’). Flu is spread person-to-person from coughs and sneezes and can cause life-threatening complications.

To protect yourself and those around you against the flu this season, get your yearly flu vaccination – it’s your best protection against the flu.

Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older.

In the ACT, the flu vaccine is free for people at higher risk of complications from flu, including:

  • children aged 6 months to under 5 years,
  • pregnant women,
  • people aged 65 years and older,
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and older, and
  • people aged 6 months and older with underlying medical conditions.

If you are sick: stay home 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.  

Staying Healthy this winter

Flu is highly contagious and spread from person-to-person. Even healthy people get the flu.

Some people, including young children, older people, pregnant women and people with certain chronic conditions are at higher risk of serious complications from the flu, including death.

What is the flu?

Influenza (commonly known as the ‘flu’) is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Cases of influenza are common throughout the year, but the number of cases increases significantly during the winter months.

What are symptoms of flu?

The most common symptoms of the flu 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)

For more information about influenza – see our Influenza Fact Sheet

How can I limit the spread of flu?

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:

  • staying away from childcare, school, work and other social activities until you are well
  • covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and putting used tissues in the bin straight after use
  • using an alcohol based hand sanitiser, and/or washing your hands regularly with soap and water, and
  • seeking medical advice from your GP.

Have a look at our Have a Healthy Winter poster.

Get vaccinated

Having a yearly flu vaccination is your best protection against the flu.

Each year the flu vaccine changes to cover the latest strains to better protect you and your family from the flu.

Who should get vaccinated?

Everyone over 6 months of age should get a yearly flu vaccination to reduce their risk of getting the flu. If you live with, care for, or visit people who are at higher risk of severe flu such as children or the elderly, you should get vaccinated to minimise the chance of spreading it to them.

In the ACT flu vaccination is free* for:

  • people aged 65 years and over
  • pregnant women
  • all children aged 6 months to under 5 years
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over, and
  • people aged six months and over with certain underlying medical conditions such as severe asthma, heart or lung disease, diabetes and/or weakened immune systems.

*GPs may charge a consultation fee. You should check this with your GP at the time of booking.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Flu vaccination is available from your GP (all age groups), pharmacies (adults aged 18 years and over), ACT Health Early Childhood Immunisation Clinics (for children aged 6 months to under 5 years), ACT Health Antenatal Clinics (for pregnant women) and some workplaces. 

Provided by For People
All children aged 6 months and to under 5 years Anyone aged 6 months and over with a medical condition that increases risk of Influenza complications Anyone aged 5 years and over not in any identified risk group Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over Pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy) People aged 65years and over
GP Yes funded Yes funded Yes but not funded Yes funded Yes funded Yes funded
Pharmacy No Yes Over 18 years but not funded Yes Over 18 years but not funded Yes Over 18 years but not funded No Yes funded
ACT Health Early Childhood Immunisation Clinics Yes funded (≥6 months - <5 years) Yes funded (≥6 months - <5 years) No Yes funded (≥6 months - <5 years) No No
ACT Health Antenatal Clinics No No No No Yes funded No
ACT Health Walk In Centres No No No No No Yes funded
Where to get medical advice

Please visit your GP or visit one of our free Walk-In Centres for medical advice.

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 and Belconnen and are open 7 days a week between 7:30am to 10pm.

Please see Walk-In Centre for more information.

GPs

Your GP provides the best continuity of 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 in the ACT

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

Winter wellness in aged care

Flu, influenza-like illness (ILI), and viral gastroenteritis (‘gastro’) infections occur across the ACT community, especially during the winter months. The elderly, 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, residents sharing communal meals and other group activities, as well as shared spaces and people within close proximity.

It is important to be proactive to minimise transmission of ILI, flu and gastro in aged care settings. The risk of spreading flu can be reduced by residents, staff and visitors receiving the flu vaccine each year - see the Immunisation section below for more information. For other 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. 

Immunisation

Immunisation of all residents and staff (including nurses, aged care assistants, reception, laundry, cleaning, kitchen, volunteers etc.) can prevent illness and transmission in aged care settings. All staff in aged care facilities should get a flu vaccine each year before the flu season.

ACT Health have developed some resources to increase flu immunisation uptake among staff:

Posters and brochures are available for order from the Immunisation Unit on (02) 5124 9800.

There is an age-specific trivalent influenza vaccine (TIV) available free to those aged 65 years and older. This vaccine is formulated to provide increased protection against influenza for older people, compared to the quadrivalent influenza vaccines (QIVs). While the QIVs are still available for people 65 years and over, vaccine experts recommend the specially-formulated TIV over the QIVs for this age group. The TIV will be available through GPs, and Walk in Centres.

For past Influenza reports please visit the flu in the ACT page.

More information about immunisation can be found on our immunisation page.

Preventing spread of infections in aged care

Family and friends should be reminded that they 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 Infection Control 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:

Recognising and reporting an outbreak

Over the winter months, when flu/ILI and gastro are more common in the community, outbreaks can occur in aged care facilities. Staff should be alert to any change in symptoms or behaviour among residents and remember that not all elderly residents will have a fever when they have ILI/flu or gastro. Any change in usual symptoms should be reported to the care manager/nurse in charge (or equivalent) of the facility.

Under the Public Health Act 1997, aged care facilities are required to notify CDC if they have:

  • three or more cases of ILI** among residents and/or staff in a 72 hour period
  • two or more cases of gastroenteritis (diarrhoea and/or vomiting) among residents and/or staff in a 24 hour period

More information about notifiable disease reporting and surveillance is available here.

**ILI case definition:

Sudden onset of symptoms

AND at least one of the following respiratory symptoms:

 

  • Cough (new or worsening)
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath

AND at least one of the following systemic symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Malaise (discomfort)
  • Headache
  • Myalgia (muscle pain)

To report an outbreak or seek advice please call the Communicable Disease Control Section on 5124 9213.

Other resources to assist you during an outbreak of ILI or gastro in an aged care setting:

Infection control

Ensuring appropriate infection control practices are adhered to year round will limit the spread of infectious diseases in an aged care facility. The most important infection control practices are effective hand hygiene, isolation of ill residents, and exclusion of sick staff. Other infection control measures include appropriate cough and sneeze etiquette and use of personal protective equipment, visitor restrictions and effective environmental cleaning.

Infection control is vital to minimising transmission and controlling outbreaks of ILI and gastro in aged care facilities. To effectively manage a communicable disease outbreak, you may need to implement additional infection control practices, increase the frequency and efficiency of environmental cleaning using appropriate products, and restrict the movement of patients, staff and visitors.

For advice about infection control, you can call the Communicable Disease Control (CDC) Information Line on 02 5124 9213 and ask for a member of the Infection Control team.

Unwell residents must be isolated to prevent spread to other residents. Residents with influenza must be isolated for 5 days from onset of symptoms. The isolation period for other viral respiratory infections may be longer than influenza – please call the CDC for advice on 5124 9213. Residents with gastro symptoms require isolation for the duration of their symptoms as well for 48 hours after their last symptom. Staff with symptoms of gastro or ILI/flu should be excluded from work for the same isolation periods.  

Resources to assist with infection control in an aged care setting:

Additional resources for outbreak management and infection control

For further information about outbreak management and infection control, please visit:

In May 2018, CDC hosted an Aged Care Forum. The presentations from the forum are available here:

Page last updated on: 20 Mar 2019