Durban — The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has said the flu vaccine remains the primary means for preventing seasonal flu infection.
This, after the Department of Health alerted the public of increased circulation of flu, with cases steadily on the rise since April 10.
The NICD said it had received reports of flu clusters in schools and workplaces. An increase in case numbers has been identified in six provinces: KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and North West, where surveillance is conducted.
Flu is an acute respiratory illness caused by an infection of the respiratory tract with the flu virus. The department said there were two types that commonly infect humans: influenza A and B. The flu viruses are typically in circulation before the winter season in South Africa.
The NICD said ideally, the vaccine should be administered before the flu season, from March to April. However, even if the season has started, it is never too late to get vaccinated, especially for individuals who have a high risk of severe illness or complications.
“To prevent contracting or spreading the virus, avoid close contact with sick individuals, stay home when sick, cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, regularly clean hands, avoid touching the mouth, eyes and nose, and clean and disinfect commonly used surfaces,” it advised.
Flu cases at sentinel influenza-like illness (ILI) and pneumonia surveillance sites were said to have been steadily increasing since April.
The NICD said the groups at increased risk of severe illness or complications of flu included pregnant women, people living with HIV, people with chronic illnesses or conditions like diabetes, lung disease, tuberculosis, heart disease, renal disease and obesity, the elderly (65 years and older) and children under age 2. These groups should seek medical help early.
Speaking to Newzroom Afrika, Professor Mignon McCulloch from the South African Paediatric Association said there was no cause to panic, “it’s usual influenza”. She said all the measures put in place during the pandemic would be helpful.
“People have relaxed. When people become sick, they have not been staying at home and not using the measures put in place,” said McCulloch.
She advised that vulnerable individuals get vaccinated. She said there were good vaccines available, and every year they were adapted for the prevailing flu strains.
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