The NICD says while cases of two flu strains were detected in the Western Cape, the number of cases has been falling since the first week of April. Picture: Andrea Piacquadio/ Pexels
The NICD says while cases of two flu strains were detected in the Western Cape, the number of cases has been falling since the first week of April. Picture: Andrea Piacquadio/ Pexels

SA's 2020 flu season questions answered

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Jul 15, 2020

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As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, many people across the nation have asked questions about the 2020 flu season.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), which collects data from sentinel sites that track respiratory diseases around the country, flu cases usually start to rise sharply around mid-to-late April, but as of end-May, there was still little sign of it.

The NICD says while cases of two flu strains were detected in the Western Cape, the number of cases has been falling since the first week of April.

Experts believe the national lockdown has delayed 2020 colds and the flu.

According to official statistics, flu affects more than 45 000 South Africans each year and between three and five million people worldwide. In addition, many affected South Africans required hospitalisation for severe illness caused by flu, which costs the economy billions of rands every year due to the deaths and absenteeism from sick days.

However, even if we’ve been spared the flu so far we’re not out of the woods yet. With the ease of lockdown restrictions, now, more than ever we should protect ourselves and our families against flu.

Bonitas Medical Fund answers common questions about 2020 flu season.

Will new flu viruses circulate this season?

Every year the influenza virus changes, or is a mutation of an existing one.  Influenza B is the main strain of flu in the 2020 flu season.

When will flu season peak in 2020 and how will it affect people? 

There are three types of seasonal influenza viruses – A, B and C. In SA, the influenza season usually occurs between May and September. 

Every year there is a debate about flu vaccinations, yet up to 11 800 people die from illness associated with seasonal influenza, and is it a common cause of severe acute respiratory illness requiring treatment in hospital. 

What should I do to protect myself from flu this season? 

Bonitas Medical Fund encourages South Africans to be vaccinated against seasonal flu as the vaccination is the most effective method for prevention and control of influenza infection. 

It may also reduce the number of people who get severe disease (e.g. bronchopneumonia, hospital admission and mortality). The injection helps your immune system fight off the virus by producing antibodies - little immune system soldiers that battle the flu virus. By having the vaccine you may also protect vulnerable individuals who are not able to have the vaccine (e.g. infants under six months old).  

What flu viruses does this season’s vaccine protect against?

It protects against the current flu virus – Influenza B.

What should I do to protect myself from flu this season?

A number of the precautions around protecting yourself against flu are what we are currently doing to contain the coronavirus such as frequent washing of hands, social distancing, sneezing into our elbow, etc.

Remember taking antibiotics when you have a virus will not help and in some cases do more harm than good. It is only when it turns into a bacterial infection, following an infection with viral influenza, that an antibiotic can be taken. Signs of a bacterial infection include: Sinus pain, earache, a sore throat and a cough that lasts longer than 7-10 days.

To get better take the prescribed medication, stay in bed, drink lots of fluids and give your body time to fight the infection. Both flu and colds are contagious which means if you not working from home you might need to take time off work to recuperate – this will help avoid spreading the disease and with the help of anti-viral medications, supplements and bed rest, you can get yourself well quickly.

Of course, it’s best to avoid getting ill at all by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, getting enough exercise and taking reasonable and practical precautions. But if you are ill, remember to look after your body and give yourself time to recover before you immerse yourself in all of life's challenges again.

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