Influenza, also known as the "flu", is an infectious disease of the upper airways and lungs caused by influenza viruses. The flu can be spread by droplets of the virus when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and when someone touches an object with the virus on it and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth. Most adults may be able to infect others one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick - which means that a person can infect others before they know that they are infected.
The symptoms of seasonal influenza, which can last up to two weeks, include:
- Fever (usually high)
- Extreme tiredness
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle aches
- Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults.
Common cold vs. seasonal influenza
Whilst the common cold and influenza are diseases caused by different viruses, they share many symptoms. The symptoms of the common cold are usually less intense than that of influenza and and generally do not result in a more serious prognosis. In the very young, the elderly and people suffering from medical conditions such as lung diseases, diabetes, cancer, kidney or heart problems, influenza poses a serious risk. In these people, the infection may lead to severe complications of underlying diseases, pneumonia and death.
Also known as bird flu or fowl plague, avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease amongst bird populations affecting mainly chickens, turkeys, ducks and other birds. In bird populations, the virus may result in a wide range of symptoms, ranging from a mild illness to a highly contagious disease with nearly certain death. The disease can be transmitted from birds to people, where it has caused an influenza-type illness and in some cases, death. The cases of people developing avian influenza in recent outbreaks have been characterised by close contact with infected chickens or other birds.
Whilst there have been suspicions of person-to-person transmission of the virus, such reports have yet to be confirmed at the time of writing.
The Commonwealth Department of Health (opens an external site) has estimated the likely incubation period of the avian influenza virus in humans as being between three to seven days. The Department also reports that the symptoms of avian influenza infection in people are similar to those of other forms of influenza. Whilst medications that are effective against the virus in people do exist, no human vaccine for the avian influenza virus is currently available.
During the Australian winter flu season, use these five simple ways to prevent the spread of this disease:
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze.
- Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
- Don't share personal items with someone who has a cold or the flu.
- Clean surfaces - regularly clean telephones, desks, tables, benches, fridge doors with soap and water, detergent (or hard surface disposable wipes).
- Avoid close contact with others when you are feeling unwell - keep your distance - at least 1 metre apart, stay home if you are unwell and have a fever. Avoid going out in public (including travelling on public transport) when you are unwell.
This new influenza virus was first detected in April 2009. It has spread rapidly around the world, and in June 2009 the World Health Organisation announced that "swine flu" (as it is commonly known) was a pandemic influenza. At this time pandemic describes its spread, rather than its virulency.
This virus was originally referred to as "swine flu" because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America. But further study has shown that this new virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia and avian genes and human genes. This is a new influenza A(H1N1) virus that has never before circulated among humans. This virus is not related to previous or current human seasonal influenza viruses. (Ref: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA and World Health Organisation).
Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 (Swine Flu) produces mild illness in most cases. However some people have been found to be more likely to develop severe illness from both seasonal influenza and H1N1 influenza '09. This group includes people who:
- Are pregnant (particularly in the second and third trimester)
- Have chronic lung disease (including asthma)
- Are very obese
- Have chronic heart conditions
- Have chronic kidney disease
- Have chronic liver disease
- Have blood disorders (including sickle cell disease)
- Have neurological disorders
- Have metabolic disorders (such as diabetes)
- Have weakened or suppressed immune systems (which may be caused by cancers, medications or HIV/AIDS)
- Are of Aboriginal of Torres Strait Islander background (of any age).
If you are in one of these groups and develop flu symptoms (cough, fever, sore throat, headache, runny nose general fatigue, and muscle pains (vomiting and diarrhoea have also been noted), you should contact your health provider immediately.
Vaccination against Pandemic (H1N1) Influenza 2009
A vaccine for the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Influenza is now available at no cost. You may contact UTS: Medical Service to book an appointment for a consultation - please advise them that you are booking for a vaccine at the time of your book.
The Panvax H1N1 vaccine is made by CSL Limited which has been producing seasonal influenza vaccines over the last 40 years.
The Department of Health (opens an external site) strongly recommend that in addition to the at risk groups of people identified above, parents and guardians of children up to six months old, frontline health workers and community care workers should be vaccinated. Further information, including the current staus of pandemic influenza in Australia and news and updates on the vaccine can be found on the Department of Health (opens an external site) website.
The World Health Organization provides further information on vaccines for pandemic (H1N1) 2009 (opens an external site).
An important part of the UTS overseas travel approval process includes reference to the travel advisories issued by the Commonwealth Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Prior to any overseas travel, read and follow the DFAT travel advisory for your destination as well as any current travel bulletins. It is also recommended that you register your details with DFAT prior to travelling overseas, so that DFAT can provide you with any situation updates for your areas of travel.
Due to the unpredictability of the situation regarding swine influenza, travellers to affected regions are advised to take prevention and control measures as advised by both DFAT and the Department of Health and Ageing.
There is further information about overseas travel safety at UTS.
Support at UTS
- UTS: Medical Service provides general practice medical services for UTS staff, students and the general public.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australian Government)
- Smart Traveller (opens an external site)
The Australian Government's travel advisory and consular assistance service.
- Online registration for Australians travelling overseas (opens an external site)
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade encourages all Australians overseas travellers to register using this service.