The Health Department has played down fears of a new outbreak of the Novel Influenza A (H1N1) virus – commonly known as swine flu – despite at leat 100 cases of it across KwaZulu-Natal.
One woman is thought to have died as a result of the virus after spending several days in isolated care at a Durban hospital.
A well-placed source at the Netcare hospital in Durban, who asked not to be named, said that the woman had tested positive for the H1N1 virus while undergoing treatment for another ailment.
“She contracted the H1N1 strain and sadly she died while she was being treated for it. Her death has been attributed to her underlying pathology but not swine flu, despite testing positive for the virus,” the source said. The woman had cancer.
Netcare spokeswoman Mary Ann Nabbie said that there had been two suspected cases but only one patient had tested positive.
“The one and only patient with confirmed H1N1 unfortunately passed away,” she said. “This patient was, however, severely compromised because of another, pre-existing condition. We follow standard, national and international protocols in this regard.”
Swine flu is an airborne disease that is spread in the same way as seasonal flu, through coughing and sneezing, and has no connection to the consumption of pork products.
According to the flu surveillance report compiled by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, data generated from one clinic in Pietermaritzburg suggests that there have been more than 100 infections at that clinic alone.
The report, which monitors different strains of flu at several strategic clinics across the country, has recorded 133 cases of H1N1 this year.
The report indicates a spike in reported cases in the past month.
One doctor, who asked not to be named, said he knew of H1N1 cases from as long ago as six weeks.
“There are indeed a large number of patients being treated for regular influenza,” he said. “Those who don’t respond to the standard treatment and still have symptoms such as dehydration and pneumonia will then be tested for H1N1.
“We have to assume that these patients have the virus and put them on treatment immediately. Patients who test positive are sent to hospital immediately for treatment.”
He said that the treatment lasted for five days and patients were put in isolation because the virus was contagious.
The head of the KZN Health Department, Sam Mkhwanazi, said that there had been no outbreak of H1N1 in the province, but confirmed that it had been deemed a prominent strain.
“To date the prominent influenza strain in South Africa for the 2013 season is A(H1N1) pdm09, which is also known as swine flu,” he said.
“It first appeared in 2009 and in subsequent years has become one of the influenza strains that circulate every year during the flu season. Its management is the same as that for seasonal flu – that is, bed rest, increased fluid intake and symptomatic treatment.”
Mkhwanazi added that trivalent vaccines provided protection against H1N1. He emphasised that there was no need for alarm.
“People will always panic and get over-excited. Everything is under control,” he said.
The swine flu pandemic that swept across the world in 2009 killed more than 2 000 people.
In South Africa, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases has recorded more than 5 000 cases, with more than 40 deaths attributed to the strain. -Sunday Tribune