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Reviewed by Dr Karina Palad, MD
Written by updoc's Editorial Team
Published 14 July 2023

What Is Influenza (Flu)?

Influenza, more commonly known as a flu, is a common respiratory illness. It can easily spread from person to person through microscopic respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. In Australia 5 to 20% of the population will become infected, annually, with the outbreak season, occurring between late autumn and early spring.

Influenza Symptoms

It is crucial to recognise the symptoms of the flu in order to seek medical attention and prevent the spread of the virus to others. Common symptoms of the flu include:

  • High fever (usually above 38°C)Coughing and sore throat
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea (more common in children)

Symptoms vary from person to person, with some experiencing some mild symptoms, and some more severe.


The flu is caused by influenza viruses, which belong to different strains, including influenza A, B, and C. These viruses are constantly changing, known as antigenic drift and antigenic shift, making it challenging to develop long-lasting immunity.

The primary transmission of the flu is through:

  • Inhalation of respiratory droplets containing the virus (e.g. when an infected person sneezes, coughs, breathes)
  • Direct contact with a contaminated surface or object followed by touching of the face, eyes, nose, or mouth.


Preventing the flu reduces the risk of infection and minimises the impact on the community. Here are some essential preventative measures:

  • Get vaccinated with the flu vaccine. Yearly vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older
  • Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds or using hand sanitiser, especially in public places.
  • Avoid close contact with infected individuals. If you are sick, stay home to prevent spreading the virus to others
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle to strengthen your immune system, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management.

The Difference Between A Common Cold & The Flu

It can be difficult to distinguish between a common cold and flu as they present similar symptoms. Here are some distinguishing factors:

  • Onset and severity - the flu has a sudden onset, with symptoms appearing rapid and more intensely while the common cold tends to gradually develop.
  • Fever - the flu presents with high fever (above 38°C) that may last a few days
  • Body aches and muscle pains are more prominent with the flu
  • Fatigue and weakness are more common and severe with the flu
  • Higher risk of complications with the flu such as pneumonia and bronchitis 


A healthcare practitioner can diagnose the flu based on a combination of symptoms and clinical evaluation. Laboratory testing can be required in some cases, or  a rapid influenza diagnostic test (RIDT) using a swab sample from your nose or throat. This test can detect the presence of influenza viruses and provide results within minutes.


There are several treatment options if you are infected with the flu that will help in alleviating symptoms and promoting recovery:

  • Rest and hydration allow for the body to recover and fight off the virus
  • Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help alleviate fever, headache, muscle aches, and other discomforts associated with the flu. It is important to consult with a healthcare practitioner and follow the instructions and dosages recommended.
  • Antiviral medication can be prescribed in some cases. These medications can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms.
  • Over-the-counter relief such as cough suppressants and nasal sprays can provide temporary relief from congestion, coughing, and other respiratory symptoms.
  • Home remedies such as gargling salt water can soothe a sore throat, using a humidifier to ease congestion, and warm compresses/warm baths can alleviate body aches.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does influenza last? 
Most cases of the flu last between 7-10 days. However, this can vary from case to case.
What are 4 symptoms of influenza? 
The most common symptoms of influenza include high fever, body aches, cough, and fatigue.
What is the difference between flu and influenza? 
The terms "flu" and "influenza" are often used interchangeably and refer to the same illness. 
What is the fastest way to cure influenza?
There is no cure for influenza, as it is a viral infection. However, there are several steps you can take to alleviate symptoms, promote recovery, and prevent complications
Can I take a day off to recover from the flu?
Yes! The flu is highly contagious and can cause significant discomfort and fatigue. You can request a medical certificate consultation using updoc’s platform.
Who can get the flu vaccine?
Everyone aged 6 months and over can get an annual flu vaccine. However, it is recommended you consult with a healthcare practitioner before doing so.

Disclaimer: this can affect individuals differently and on a case by case basis. It it best to consult with your health practitioner to seek medical advice and receive a personalised diagnosis, and treatment plan.

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