Protecting the Vulnerable

Infectious diseases like influenza and COVID-19, are much more serious than the common cold. They can lead to pneumonia and other complications, and can be fatal. People aged 65 years and over, pregnant women, Aboriginal people (6 months of age and older), young children (6 months to less than 5 years of age) or people with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease are particularly vulnerable.

These viruses are spread when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes small droplets containing the virus into the air. These air droplets may be breathed in by those nearby. Infection may also be spread by contact with hands, tissues and other infected articles.

Don’t be a hero – if you have symptoms of illness stay home and avoid exposing vulnerable people.

People With Chronic Health Conditions

Some chronic health conditions leave people particularly vulnerable to the health challenges of different seasons and of COVID-19.

  • Be prepared if you have a chronic illness. Speak to your local GP about how other illnesses can affect your health, and develop an action plan if you get sick. Understand what may trigger your symptoms and what options you have, to get the right care, at the right time.
  • Seek early GP review and assessment if you are unwell or your health is worsening. Pharmacists can give advice for cold/flu-like symptoms.

There are a range of organisations that are dedicated to supporting people with chronic disease and also have specific materials about how to prepare for COVID-19 if you have a chronic health condition.

Links to Heart Health, Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) action plans are also available on the Resources Page for you to download and take to your GP.

If you are a smoker, the lining of your lungs is more vulnerable and producing more of the receptors which the COVID-19 virus latches onto. Quit now. Support is available. Visit Be Smoke Free for more information.

The flu vaccine is available for free to people six months of age or older with the following underlying chronic medical conditions:

  • cardiac disease
  • chronic respiratory conditions including severe asthma
  • other chronic illnesses requiring regular medical follow up or hospitalisation in the previous year, for example diabetes, chronic renal (kidney) failure, chronic metabolic disease and haemoglobinopathies
  • chronic neurological conditions that may impact on respiratory function including multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, seizure disorders and other neuromuscular disorders
  • people with impaired immunity, including HIV infection, malignancy and chronic steroid use
  • children on long term aspirin therapy.

Find out more about getting vaccinated as part of the Annual Influenza Vaccination Program.

People Over 65

People aged 65 years and older are far more likely than any other age group to die from the flu. All of 2018 flu related deaths were in people aged over 65 years of age.

This age group are also particularly vulnerable to other health challenges like hypothermia. Look after your elderly family, friends or neighbours; making sure they are warm and well.

If you are aged 65 years or over you are eligible to get vaccinated against influenza free. Find out more about the Annual Influenza Vaccination Program for people 65 and over.

Children Under 5

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) advises that infants and children younger than five years of age, and especially those under three years of age, are more likely to get severe flu infections that require hospitalisation than older children, and sometimes these can be fatal.

Young children with flu are also more likely to spread the infection to others. By protecting them we can also help protect other vulnerable people in the community, including babies too young to receive a flu vaccine (those aged less than six months) and the elderly.

Find out more about the Annual Influenza Vaccination Program for under 5s and visit Keep Well, Keep Connected for more information on looking after your family.

Remember, some conditions that are not life-threatening for an adult can be more serious for babies and young children.

Young babies with fever, especially in the first few months of life, need to be assessed by a doctor. Other concerning symptoms include poor feeding, vomiting, lethargy or irritability and skin rash. Difficulty breathing is concerning for all children.

For minor illness or injury, there are a range of care options to consider, including your local GP or pharmacy. Local health services, including information about after hours services, can be found through the National Health Services Directory.

For more information about emergency care for children see care for children.

Pregnant Women

Pregnancy increases the risk of developing serious complications from the flu. Complications of the flu infection in pregnant women are the same for the rest of the population but can also include miscarriage or premature labour.

Pregnant women have an increased risk of complications because their immune system is naturally suppressed during pregnancy and their 'expanded size' can make breathing more difficult. This is particularly relevant to women in their second and third trimester.

Generally pregnant women have greater risk of requiring medical visits and hospital stays due to flu related illness compared to non-pregnant women.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) have advised that infection in the third trimester of pregnancy appears to be the most dangerous for pregnant women.

For more information see Pregnancy and Immunisation and Annual Influenza Vaccination Program.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

The flu vaccine is highly recommended for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders due to the increased risk of disease in the population.

Free flu vaccine is available to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 6 months and over.

Find out more about Aboriginal immunisation recommendations.