Public warned about rising cases of flu which can cause severe illness, hospitalization, or cause death

The big freeze… and sneeze is here for winter. l JOE MOKONE

The big freeze… and sneeze is here for winter. l JOE MOKONE

Published Jun 4, 2023


Pretoria – The Department of Health says it has been notified by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of an increasing circulation of influenza around the country since the beginning of May.

“The cases have been steadily increasing since week 15 (starting 10 April) and the NICD has received reports of influenza clusters in schools and workplaces,” said Foster Mohale, national spokesperson for the Department of Health.

Influenza, also known as flu, is an acute respiratory illness caused by an infection of the respiratory tract with the influenza virus.

“There are two types of influenza viruses that commonly infect humans namely A and B. The flu viruses are typically in circulation before the winter season in South Africa,” said Mohale.

“The virus spreads from person to person through inhalation of infected respiratory droplets when people are sneezing, coughing or talking. A person can also be infected by touching contaminated objects or surfaces that the flu virus is on and then touching their mouth, eyes or nose.”

People who are infected with influenza can prevent the spread by covering their mouth when coughing with a tissue or cough into the elbow; wearing a mask; washing their hands frequently with soap and water or cleaning hands using an alcohol-based sanitiser; or, staying at home and trying to keep a distance from others.

“The 2023 influenza season started in the last week of April 2023 when the influenza detection rate breached the seasonal threshold and remained on low activity for two consecutive weeks in the pneumonia surveillance programme,” said Mohale.

The increase in case numbers has been identified in six provinces, namely KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and North West – where surveillance is conducted.

“Although the majority of people with influenza will present with mild illness, influenza may cause severe illness, which may require hospitalisation or cause death, especially in individuals who are at risk of getting severe influenza illness or complications.

“People at increased risk of severe health complications of influenza include pregnant women, people living with conditions like HIV and other chronic illnesses or conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, tuberculosis, heart disease, renal disease and obesity, the elderly (65 years and older) and children younger than two years old,” said Mohale.

People in the listed categories are advised to seek medical help early.

“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,” said Mohale.

The Department of Health said the influenza vaccine remains the primary means for preventing seasonal influenza infection. l FILE

Influenza vaccine remains the primary means for preventing seasonal influenza infection, and should be administered before the influenza season – around March to April.

“However, even if the season has already started, it is never too late to get vaccinated, especially individuals who are high risk of severe influenza illness or complications,” said Mohale.

Last month, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla called for vigilance, and appealed to community members not to panic after South Africa recorded two positive cases of the diphtheria disease.

At the time, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service alerted the Department of Health of two laboratory-confirmed cases of diphtheria that were detected in April.

“The first case was in an adult in KwaZulu-Natal and the second case was in the Western Cape in a child,” said Mohale.

Diphtheria is an uncommon, but vaccine-preventable “serious infection” caused by a toxin producing bacterium called Corynebacterium diphtheriae.