The 2017 season started at the end of May and will likely continue a few weeks into September, according to pharmaceutical company, Pharma Dynamics.
The firm, which provides cold and flu medication across the country, conducts research into South Africa’s seasonal illnesses each year, and has predicted that the usual flu season not only started early this year, but appears to have extended to more than four months.
“The average duration of the colds and flu season over the past 33 years has been 12 weeks, but it could have us in its grip for as long as 18 weeks, which takes us well into September,” said spokesperson Nicole Jennings.
“The colds and flu season generally peaks between six and nine weeks after it starts, but this year it spiked early, in the week starting June 26.
“Often when this happens, it’s not uncommon to see a later, second peak in August, due to a change in circulating strains, so consumers should keep up their immune-boosting supplementation to ward off nasty bugs."
While the company said this year’s flu strains had not been too taxing, eight percent of sufferers in South Africa were diagnosed with H1N1, also known as swine flu.
It’s characterised by more severe symptoms than regular flu strains, from extreme body aches and fever compared with the usual coughs and runny noses.
“The most predominant flu strain this year has been influenza A (H3N2). This is the strain that typically causes more severe disease,” said Jennings. “Influenza A (H1N1) pdm09, known as swine flu, was the second most prevalent this season.
“Influenza B - a type of flu that presents similar symptoms to influenza A - accounted for the rest. While there were many reports of severe flu symptoms, the overall flu season has been mild to moderate.”
When it came to treatment, many of these strains, particularly the swine flu variant were viral in nature, meaning most antibiotics didn’t necessarily help in staving off the illness, Jennings said.
Using antibiotics could also kill off the body’s natural probiotics. However, she said, the best way to resolve such confusion was to ensure a visit with a general practitioner, who could identify the symptoms of a bacterial infection over a viral one and prescribe such drugs if necessary.
Jennings said flu vaccinations were paramount to prevent infections and that each year the vaccinations for each region were determined by the World Health Organisation. It was a common misconception that the vaccination could infect those who took it with the flu.
“You’re injected with a dead virus. You may experience some symptoms associated with the flu, but this rarely lasts more than a day,” she said.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases said the primary means for preventing seasonal influenza was vaccination.
“It’s never too late to vaccinate as long as the influenza virus is still circulating,” said the institute’s Dr Sibongile Walaza. “In addition, general preventative precautions, such as hand washing, cough hygiene and avoiding contact with people who are ill should also be considered.
“Antiviral medications such as Tamiflu are recommended for persons at risk of severe influenza or influenza complications."