NICD warns against ‘swine flu’ term as influenza cases spike across SA

File picture: Renateko/Pixabay

File picture: Renateko/Pixabay

Published Jun 5, 2023


The National Institute for Communicable Diseases has reported an increase in flu cases across the country in recent weeks with cluster cases reported in schools and workplaces. However, the NICD has warned that "Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, which is sometimes incorrectly referred to as 'swine flu' has been one of the circulating seasonal influenza strains following its emergence in 2009.

The term 'swine flu' should not be used as it causes unnecessary panic. The clinical course of infection and management of this strain is similar to other influenza strains," the institute said.

The institute explained that Influenza A(H3N2), A(H1N1)pdm09, and influenza B are common seasonal influenza strains in humans.

The NICD said the 2023 influenza season started in late April and has since breached the seasonal threshold.

"The increase in case numbers has been identified in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and the North West where surveillance is conducted. As of May 28, the most commonly detected subtype and lineage is influenza A (H3N2) followed by influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 and influenza B Victoria," the NICD said, adding that 181 samples have subtyping results pending.

Influenza percentage detections and epidemic thresholds among cases of all ages, pneumonia surveillance in public hospitals, January 1, 2023 - May 28, 2023. Picture: NICD

It said although most people with flu will suffer from mild illness, in some cases it can require hospitalisation or cause death.

"Groups at increased risk of severe illness or complications of influenza include pregnant women, people living with HIV, people with chronic illnesses or conditions like diabetes, lung disease, tuberculosis, heart disease, renal disease and obesity, people older than 65 and children under the age of 2. These groups should seek medical help urgently," the NICD said.

The Health Department said the most common symptoms include fever, muscle pains and body aches, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, feeling tired or unwell and headache.

These may develop one to four days after infection and last for two to seven days. For the majority of people, the symptoms commonly resolve without treatment.

To prevent contracting or spreading the influenza virus, the following measures are recommended:

– 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

– Clean and disinfect commonly used surfaces

Clinicians should include influenza as a possible diagnosis when managing patients with respiratory illness.