What is the flu

Influenza, or the flu is a highly contagious viral infection that infects your upper airways and lungs.

You're more likely to get the flu in winter, but in tropical and subtropical areas like Queensland, it's common all year round. Particularly from June to September, with a peak in August.

Most people get better within a week, but sometimes a cough and tiredness can last longer.

A small number of people get pneumonia, inflammation of the heart muscle or have neurological problems.  And although it's rare, some get encephalitis, life threatening brain inflammation.

Having a cold or the flu

Colds and the flu are both viral respiratory illnesses, but they're caused by different viruses.

Flu symptoms are usually more severe and last longer, while colds usually pass in a few days. The flu can cause severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

It can be hard to tell which one you have, because they can have similar symptoms.

Who's at risk

Some people can get sicker than others when they have the flu.

It's more common for children to get the flu, and more under 5 end up in hospital compared to other preventable diseases.

People most at risk are:

  • babies and toddlers to aged 5
  • people over 65
  • pregnant women
  • people with medical conditions such as diabetes, lung or heart disease.

Signs and symptoms

You'll usually get symptoms 1 to 3 days after getting infected and may have:

  • a fever
  • a sore throat
  • a dry cough
  • headaches
  • muscle or joint pain
  • tiredness or exhaustion.

Children are more likely to have nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Elderly people might not get a fever or have other common symptoms. They may instead be confused and have trouble breathing. If they have a chronic health condition, it may get worse.

How it spreads

You can infect other people from 24 hours before you have any symptoms to a week afterwards.

You'll usually get the flu from:

  • an infected person coughing or sneezing near you
  • touching contaminated surfaces, such as hands, remote controls, phones, keyboards and door handles, and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

Children and people with a compromised immune system can be infectious for longer.


The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated every year and have good hygiene. You need a vaccine every year because the strains can change each year. The best time to get vaccinated is before the flu season starts.

This includes:

  • staying at home if you're sick and not seeing other people
  • washing your hands often with soap and water or using a hand sanitiser
  • sneezing or coughing into your arm or a tissue
  • throwing away used tissues and washing your hands after coughing or sneezing
  • staying 1.5 metres (2 big steps) away from anyone who's coughing or sneezing
  • cleaning surfaces like benches and desks with detergent or an anti-bacterial spray
  • not sharing cups, glasses, cutlery, lip balm, toys or anything that may have touched someone else's mouth or nose.


There's no specific treatment for the flu and you'll usually start feeling better in about a week or so.

It can help to:

  • rest and drink plenty fluids, such as water, to avoid dehydration
  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve a high temperature.

Don't give Aspirin to your children if they're under 16 unless their GP has told you to. Aspirin has been associated with a risk of developing a rare liver and brain illness called Reye's syndrome.

When to get help

In an emergency, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

If you're not sure whether to go to an emergency department, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or see your GP if you:

  • are worried about your symptoms
  • are in a high risk group
  • have a fever of 38º C or more that isn't improving.

Find out more

For more information about vaccination, contact your health provider or call 13 HEALTH(13 43 25 84) .

Find an vaccination provider

Information in your language

You can find information about vaccination in your language on the  Queensland Government website.

Last updated: September 2023