Influenza (the flu) is an infectious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses.
Influenza is not just a ‘bad cold’ – it is a more serious illness that may lead to complications, particularly in people with an existing medical condition.
Annual influenza immunisation is recommended to get the best protection against influenza.
Who gets influenza?
Anyone of any age can get influenza, no matter how fit and healthy they are. .
How is influenza spread?
Influenza viruses spread mainly from person to person, by being exposed to people with influenza who are coughing and/or sneezing, or by touching something with influenza viruses on it and then touching your mouth or nose. People with influenza can infect others, starting from before they develop symptoms, up to a week or more after becoming sick. Children can infect others for a much longer period of time, even if they have no or very mild symptoms.
How can you avoid getting influenza?
Having an influenza immunisation each year is the best protection against influenza. Annual immunisation is needed for two reasons: firstly because protection lessens over time; and secondly because, each year, influenza can be caused by different influenza viruses that were not included in the previous year’s vaccine. Each year the influenza vaccine contains the three strains most likely to occur that flu season.
About influenza immunisation
The usual ‘flu season’ in New Zealandis from around May to September. The best time to have influenza immunisation is in March or April, as soon as the vaccine becomes available and before the flu season arrives, as it takes you up to two weeks to develop immunity after immunisation. Influenza immunisation cannot cause influenza because the vaccine contains no live viruses.
In New Zealand, the following groups of people are eligible for free influenza immunisation until 31 July 2013:
• Anyone aged 65 years or over.
• Anyone aged 6 months to 64 years of age with any of the medical conditions below:
Cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease (including asthma, if on regular preventive medication),
diabetes, chronic renal (kidney) disease, cancer (current, and excluding non-invasive skin cancers) and various other conditions.
• Pregnant women.
Talk to your GP (family doctor) to see if you are eligible for free influenza immunisation.