By Dr Brett Sutton, Victorian deputy chief health officer

 Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection, spread by contact with fluids from coughs and sneezes.

Typically, Australia’s annual flu season occurs between April and October.

For the best possible protection this year, my advice to all Victorians is to be vaccinated anytime from mid-April onwards.

This should ensure they are protected by the time the disease begins to spread more widely in the community.

The record number of flu notifications last year in Victoria alone is a timely reminder about the importance of vaccination.

There were more than 48,000 cases and, tragically, a number of deaths were reported.

This year we expect to make more than one million doses of vaccine available.

In Victoria this season for the first time we are providing free immunisation to babies and children from six months to under five years of age.

Two doses are required for those receiving the vaccine for the first time.

Our seniors will also be protected, with all Victorians over 65 eligible for a free flu vaccine.

Everyone aged 65 and over will receive a specially formulated vaccine that triggers a stronger immune response and give increased protection.

Our message this winter is simple: “You never forget the flu – don’t forget your flu shot.”

Flu vaccinations save lives.

When more people are vaccinated, fewer people become ill or suffer life-threatening complications from influenza.

The flu is not like a cold.

Symptoms last on average one to two weeks but for some it takes several weeks to recover.

It kills more than 3500 Australians each year.

Some of us are more vulnerable to complications – the over 65s, pregnant women, children under five, people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Also, those with chronic conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes, chronic neurological conditions and smokers should all be immunised.

All these groups were among those who were affected by flu last year.

And remember, we all have the potential to spread flu to these at risk groups.

Do what you can to avoid getting and sharing the flu – wash your hands thoroughly, cough into your elbow and get a shot in the arm.

If you’re really sick, stay away from work and other places where you’ll spread the flu.

And don’t send ill children to school – they can sometimes be the ‘super-spreaders’ of diseases such as influenza.

Influenza vaccine will be available from general practitioners.

Many of our pharmacies are also able to provide flu vaccines as well as advice about the disease.

Everyone needs to prepare for the coming flu season.

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