Protecting the vulnerable this winter


Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a highly contagious infection of the nose, throat and lungs caused by the influenza A or B viruses. Influenza is much more serious than the common cold. It 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.

The virus is 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. Flu infection can cause serious illness in anyone, but young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease are particularly vulnerable to severe illness.

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

People with chronic medical conditions

Some chronic medical conditions leave people particularly vulnerable to the health challenges of winter.

  • Be prepared if you have a chronic illness. Speak to your local GP about how flu 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.

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

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 2019 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 last year’s flu related deaths were in people aged over 65 years of age.

This age group are also particularly vulnerable to other winter health challenges like hypothermia. This winter, 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 2019 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 2019 Annual Influenza Vaccination Program for under 5s and visit Winter Wellness for more information on looking after your family this winter.

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 at

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 2019 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 here.

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