The flu (influenza) is a virus that spreads quickly between people. Flu causes symptoms like a fever, runny nose, cough or upset stomach. There can be different types or strains of flu that can make you sick each year.

How flu spreads

Flu (influenza) spreads quickly from person to person through touch and through droplets in the air. This includes:

  • direct contact with people who have flu
  • contact with surfaces that have the flu virus on them
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • talking.

You are most likely to get the flu during 'flu season' — May to October in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Adults are most likely to be contagious in the first 3 to 5 days of illness. Young tamariki can be contagious for more than 5 days.

Symptoms of flu

The flu virus infects your nose, throat and lungs. It is normally worse than a cold.

It can take between 1 to 4 days to feel symptoms after you catch flu. The worst symptoms usually last about 5 days, but coughing can last up to 2 to 3 weeks.

Symptoms of flu start suddenly and can include:

  • fever or feeling feverish
  • chills
  • muscle or body aches
  • headache
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • upset stomach, vomiting or runny poos (diarrhoea).

Illnesses with similar symptoms

Flu symptoms can be similar to other illnesses like COVID-19 or meningococcal disease. If you suspect someone in your whānau has meningococcal disease, seek urgent medical attention.

Preventing flu

The flu virus changes often. This means the vaccine has to be adjusted each year to match the new strains of the disease. Your best defence against flu is to get a yearly flu vaccine and follow basic hygiene practices.

Some people can get flu vaccines for free. Find out about flu vaccines and when to get them.

Flu (influenza) vaccine

Other ways to avoid flu

You can also protect yourself and your whānau in other ways. 

  • Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, and dry them for 20 seconds — or use an alcohol-based hand rub. 
  • Do not share drinks.
  • Avoid crowded places.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

Treating flu

Caring for yourself and others

If you are unwell, stay at home and rest in a separate, well-ventilated room away from other people if you can.

Drink small amounts of fluids often.

You can also take appropriate medicines to relieve discomfort and fever if you need to.

Caring for pēpi and tamariki 

When pēpi or tamariki have flu, it is important to do the following.

  • Keep them at home resting until they are well.
  • Care for them in a separate, well-ventilated room away from others if possible.
  • Breastfeed more or give them more of the fluids they usually drink.
  • Give paracetamol or ibuprofen if they have pain or discomfort in the dose recommended on the package, unless your healthcare provider says otherwise. Do not give aspirin to tamariki under 14 years of age.


The flu vaccine is free for people at higher risk of getting very sick, including:

  • people aged 65 years and over
  • people aged 6 months and over who have a long term medical condition like diabetes, asthma, or a heart condition
  • pregnant people
  • tamariki (children) aged 4 years and under who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness, or have a history of significant respiratory illness
  • people with mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder
  • people who are currently accessing secondary or tertiary mental health and addiction services.

The funded flu vaccine for tamariki and adults (6 months of age and over) available in Aotearoa New Zealand is called Influvac Tetra. 

  • Encourage your whānau who can get a free flu vaccination to see their doctor or nurse
  • Being fit and healthy won’t stop you getting the flu
  • You can get your COVID-19 vaccine or booster when you get your flu jab
  • You can’t get flu from the vaccine
  • You need to get a flu shot every year before winter for best protection

    Info about timings of flu shots and COVID vaccines here.


    Flutracking is an online health surveillance system used to detect the potential spread of influenza. By taking part, you’ll not only be contributing to scientific research, you will be helping to track influenza in your local community and nation-wide! Visit to sign up.

    Related websites


    • A range of posters and brochures can be found at HealthEd 


    Further information

    Last updated 22 May 2024.