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Flu Facts & FAQ

Questions answered about Influenza and the Flu Season

About the Flu

Influenza (“flu”) is a contagious disease that spreads around Australia each year. Influenza can occur at any time of the year, but is more likely to occur between June and October. Flu is caused by influenza viruses, and is spread mainly by coughing and sneezing.

Anyone can get the flu.

Symptoms come on suddenly and may last several days. Flu can also lead to pneumonia, and can make existing medical conditions worse. It can also cause diarrhoea and seizures in children.  Each year thousands of people in Australia die from flu, and many more are hospitalised.

Flu vaccine is the best protection against flu and its complications. The flu vaccine also helps prevent the spread of flu from person to person.

Why bother to vaccinate?

Flu vaccinations are well recognised as one of the single most effective ways to reduce absenteeism over the winter months. If someone gets sick, they may be away from work for up to six full days. Research shows that healthy people who have been vaccinated for flu take 43% fewer sick days for flu-related illnesses than unvaccinated staff.[1]

On the other side of the coin is reducing ‘presenteeism’, where staff who are ill continue to come to work. Their performance can be impaired by 20-40% as a result of their illness—comparable to being under the influence of alcohol, and just as dangerous.[2] These staff also present a source of infection for others, some of whom may be pregnant or have chronic health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, and be at a high risk of becoming seriously ill from the flu.

What can the flu vaccination help to reduce?

  • The number of work days lost due to illness.
  • Poor productivity due to illness.
  • Service disruptions to your customers.
  • The risk of flu spreading through the workplace, and to your customers.

Vaccinating is safe and makes good financial sense. There is evidence to show that two days of sick leave can be saved for every seven vaccinated staff[3]. In Australia, flu vaccination programs have been shown to return 2½ times their costs in savings[4].

Is the flu really that much of a risk?

The short answer is Yes! In 2017, there were 207,000 confirmed cases of influenza reported in Australia. More than 29,000 people were hospitalised because of it, and 8.9% of those ended up in Intensive Care Units (ICUs).

There are a number of factors that can influence how badly a person can be affected—whether it’s just feeling a bit off colour, through to a life-threatening condition. The flu is easily prevented through vaccination, so why take the risk?

What are the most common symptoms?

Symptoms of flu most commonly include a fever combined with a cough and/or sore throat.

Other symptoms may include:

  • fatigue
  • headache
  • runny or congested nose
  • muscle or joint aches and pains
  • chills
  • nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhoea have also been reported, particularly in children.

These symptoms generally require people to take several days of work and/or reduces their productivity while at work.

Several flu virus strains circulate every year in Australia.

Am I at an increased risk of illness from the flu?

Some people are more likely to develop severe illness from seasonal flu and human swine flu. They include:

  • pregnant women
  • young children aged 6 months to under 5 years
  • people aged 65 years of age and older
  • Aboriginal Australians
  • very obese people
  • people with underlying medical conditions including
    • heart disease
    • chronic respiratory conditions
    • diabetes
    • chronic neurological conditions
    • people with weakened immune systems, which may be caused by cancers, HIV/AIDS or certain medications.

If you are in one of the groups above, you:

  • are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated against flu
  • should seek medical attention if you develop flu symptoms.
Are you using the most up to date flu vaccine?

Because the flu changes so much from year, the vaccine has to also be updated every year.

Please rest assured that VaxWorks uses only the most current vaccines available which is one of the reasons we do  not start our program until late March or early April which is when the vaccines for the upcoming flu season are released by the regulators.

What strains of the flu are in the 2020 flu vaccine?

Each year the World Health Oranization recommend which flu virus strains should be included in the vaccine to provide the best possible protection against the types of flu which are predicted to be most common in the upcoming winter.  The WHO recommedned the following strains oif the flu virus be used to develop the 2019 flu vaccine:

  • an A/Brisbane/02/2018 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
  • an A/South Australia/34/2019 (H3N2)-like virus;
  • a B/Washington/02/2019-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus; and
  • a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage) virus.

As a very quck footnote, the location in the name of the virus does not indicate where the virus is most common or ewhere it originated – it is simply the location of the lab which isolated the virus.  Viruses travel around the world and yuo are no more likely to get infected with the B/Phuket strain in Phuket than anywhere else.

Which flu vaccine should I get if I am over 65?

While influenza affects people of all ages, infections among the elderly are more likely to require hospitalisation or cause serious complications such as pneumonia and heart attacks. Of the 1,100 Australians who died in 2017 from flu-related causes, 90% were aged 65 and over.

Unfortunately older people’s immune systems don’t respond to flu vaccines as well as younger people’s. Recent studies have also shown that flu vaccines don’t appear to be as effective in the elderly at protecting against flu and its complications.

To help protect older people, the Australian government has funded the use of specific vaccines that have been designed to work better for older people.  Unfortunately thouigh, these vaccines can only be obtained from your GP as part of hte government funded vaccination programs and companies like VaxWorks Heral;th Services who deliver employer funded vaccination programs are not able to access these.

VaxWorks recommends that, in line with the advise of public health experts, people ove the age of 65 should see their GP and receive one of the vaccines that have been sepcifically developed for this age group.  

We do not recommend that people should seek out or receive both types of vaccine, however if you think that is unlikely that you will get to your GP to receive one of these vaccines, we do recommend that you receive one of the vaccines that we offer as the vaccine will still provide a great deal of protection and this will be much better at protecting you than not getting vaccinated at all.

Why offer flu vaccination to your staff?

The flu is much worse than having a cold. The most common effects of flu are body aches, headaches, fever, chills and fatigue. People who get the flu will usually need 4-6 days off work. If they do come to work, their performance suffers to the same extent as if they had been drinking, and they risk spreading the flu to other employees as well

Each year in Australia, influenza results in 18,000 hospitalisations, over 300,000 GP consultations and costs the Australian health care system at least $85 million.

The flu also costs businesses an estimated 1.5 million work days lost each year.

How much will a flu vaccination program save my company?

The research overwhelmingly shows that vaccinating employees against influenza saves money for businesses. A company can generally expect to save $2.50 in wages for every dollar invested in a workplace vaccination program and $5.00 for every dollar invested when lost productivity is taken into account.

The flu can affect up to 15% of people each year, but even in a year when only 5% of people get the flu, a vaccination program is still expected to save you money.

When you take into account some of the other benefits of your program such as employee appreciation, prevention of influenza in unvaccinated staff and greater convenience for staff who want to get vaccinated, the benefits of a flu vaccination program become very clear.

[1] Nichol et al, The effectiveness of vaccination against influenza in healthy working adults. NEJM 1995; 33: 889-93.
[2] Smith AP et al, Effect of influenza B virus infection on human performance. BM 1993; 306 (6880): 760-1.
[3] Keech M and Beardsworth P., The impact of influence on working days lost, PharmacoEconomics: 2008; 26, 11.
[4] Cohen et al, J Occup Health Safety 2003; 19(2): 167-82.