An ABC News.co.nz survey of Australian adults found that half of those surveyed say they have been sick, and nearly half of them said they have missed a meal because of the flu.
The survey, conducted between October 14 and 16, found more than a third of Australians believe they have suffered from flu-like symptoms, and more than half (54 per cent) say they missed a day of work because of it.
More than one in five (20 per cent), however, said they had been ill for just a day or less and did not think it was serious.
When asked if they had a family member who was sick, more than one-quarter (27 per cent, or nearly 20 million Australians) said they did not.
Some of the results are striking given the fact that Australians are used to getting sick, particularly during flu season.
In 2013, the first quarter of the year saw the highest numbers of people with flu-related illnesses, with almost two-thirds (67 per cent).
In the previous three quarters, there was a similar pattern, with an average of about one in six (18 per cent of those questioned said they missed work because they were sick).
The latest figures for the first two weeks of November show the number of people in Australia reporting flu-associated illnesses has fallen dramatically from around 2.2 million in the previous quarter to 1.8 million, according to figures from the National Health and Medical Research Council.
While the majority of Australians, 71 per cent said they were feeling well enough to go about their day, the number who said they could not get to work because their flu symptoms were so severe was a stunning 21 per cent.
“I’m not quite sure where we’re going to go with it, but I think there’s going to be a big change in the way people think about the flu,” Professor Michael Smith from the School of Public Health said.
Dr Smith said while some people may think they can simply take the flu off, the numbers are growing.
He said it was “not as simple” as “if you get sick you get to go to the hospital”.
“We’re talking about the first days of the season where the virus is at its peak and the first weeks of the month are when we’re not going to see a lot of people reporting flu,” he said.
Dr Smith has previously shown flu pandemic has impacted on people’s behaviour, and he said while it may not be the “perfect storm” that is expected, he was hopeful the numbers would decrease.
“[We] are seeing a lot more people taking flu medication,” he added.