Former Victorian Chief Health Officer Dr Rosemary Lester talks about the importance of influenza (flu) immunisation and dispels some common myths around the vaccine.
Influenza can be quite a serious illness. It can cause fever, coughs, headaches (feeling really bad all over), muscle aches and pains. And it can actually lead to severe complications for instance, pneumonia and in some cases, even death.

The influenza virus is spread very quickly from person-to-person:

Either by coughs and sneezes or
By touching people's hands or
Touching surfaces that are contaminated with the influenza virus.
It's therefore important for us to wash our hands regularly. If we have a cough or sneeze: to cover our nose and mouth with a tissue, dispose of the tissue and then wash our hands.

It's important for people who are feeling ill with a fever or cough that they don't attend work. This is so they don't risk passing the disease on to their colleagues and particularly their colleagues who may be in one of the at-risk groups.

It's also important not to send children to school or child care when they have those sorts of symptoms.

It is important to get the vaccine every year. The influenza virus is able to change its genetic nature very quickly and usually there are different strains of the influenza virus circulating each year. The vaccine therefore usually changes in anticipation of what strains are usually around. So it's important to get the vaccine every year. The protection from the vaccine usually only lasts about a year as well.

You can't get influenza from the vaccine. What some people confuse it with is some people may experience a bit of a reaction to the vaccine. So they may get a low grade fever and some aches and pains. And that's an expected reaction from the vaccine in a small proportion of people, but it's not influenza.

So what happens when you attend the influenza vaccine session? Is that you'll be given a checklist to go through just to see if you have any allergies or any chronic medical conditions, and check that you'll be suitable to have the influenza vaccine. For the vast majority of people, it is safe and recommended to have the influenza vaccine.

The nurse will administer the vaccine and it's really quite pain free having the vaccine. You'll then be asked to wait for 15 minutes and that's to cover the extremely rare event that there will be an immediate allergic reaction.

You'll then be given some information to take away to make sure you know what some of the common reactions to the vaccine might be.

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Last updated: October 2015

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