Influenza: If and When You Should Vaccinate

Written by Amanda Green, Pharmacist. 

Influenza, also known as the flu, is a highly contagious infection of the airways. It most commonly occurs during winter months but may present at other times of the year in some circumstances.

With winter coming, now is the time to start thinking about ‘how can I avoid getting the flu this year?’.

Firstly, let’s see if you are at risk.

Well, the reality is, is that the flu can infect anybody. However, some people are more at risk of catching the flu than others. This includes:

  • Infants
  • Those above the age of 65
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
  • Pregnant women
  • Being a smoker
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a weakened immune system; or
  • Having a chronic medical condition (e.g. heart disease, kidney disease)

Is the flu easy to spread?

Once you have the flu, it is really easy to spread. The flu is spread through droplets from our respiratory system – when we cough, sneeze or even talk. These droplets containing the virus can land in the mouth or nose of a healthy person nearby and be inhaled into their lungs, spreading the infection.

The virus may be present one day before symptoms develop, and up to seven days after falling sick. The alarming result of this is that the flu can be spread before a person even knows they are unwell!

So, does that mean you should get vaccinated?

The flu vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent against the spread of infection and protect against any serious complications, caused by the flu. Vaccination works on the basis of ‘herd immunity’, which means that the more people vaccinated within the community, the less likely it will spread. By getting vaccinated, you will also be helping to protect others, especially those that are too young or unwell to be vaccinated.

The Australian Health Department recommends the flu vaccine for all adults and children over six months of age. More specific groups of people are strongly encouraged to get the vaccine and this includes:

  • Anyone over 65 years
  • Anyone over the age of 6 months, that has a medical condition that increases their risk of contracting a serious disease
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
  • Pregnant women or women planning a pregnancy
  • Healthcare workers
  • Aged care workers
  • Early childhood education and care workers; and
  • Overseas travellers

Some of the above people may qualify for a free flu vaccine under The National Immunisation Program. Find out if you are eligible here.

When should you get vaccinated?

Timing your flu vaccination is crucial to ensuring you receive the best possible protection. Evidence suggests that the effectiveness of the flu vaccine may decrease over time, with protection lasting around 3 to 4 months.

As it can take up to 2 weeks after vaccination to develop protection against the flu, it’s recommended that you have your flu vaccination in late autumn to ensure you are protected for the duration of the flu season, the peak of which is in winter. But importantly, it is never too late to get the flu vaccine!

For more information about the flu vaccine, speak to your GP or local pharmacist today.

This post was written by Amanda Green. Amanda is a pharmacist with more than 10 years of both hospital and community pharmacy experience. She is a mother of two young children and is passionate about health and fitness.

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