Health Department issues alert as cases of the flu surge in six provinces

Influenza causes respiratory symptoms including cough, runny nose, sore throat and shortness of breath. Picture: Patrick Mtolo/African News Agency (ANA)

Influenza causes respiratory symptoms including cough, runny nose, sore throat and shortness of breath. Picture: Patrick Mtolo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 5, 2023


Johannesburg - The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has informed the Department of Health (DoH) that influenza is spreading more widely across the nation since last month.

Foster Mohale, Health Department spokesperson, said the cases have been steadily increasing since week 15 which started on April 10. The NICD has received reports of influenza clusters in schools and workplaces.

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

He said 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.

"The virus spreads from person to person through the 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 spread by covering their mouth when coughing with a tissue or coughing into the elbow; wearing a mask; washing their hands frequently with soap and water; cleaning hands using an alcohol-based sanitizer; or staying at home and trying to keep a distance from others."

Mohale added that the 2023 influenza season started in the last week of April, when the influenza detection rate (3-week moving average) breached the seasonal threshold and remained on low activity for two consecutive weeks in the pneumonia surveillance programme.

The increase in case numbers has been identified in six provinces: KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, and the 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 from 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 2 years old. These groups should be encouraged to seek medical help early.

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

He said these may develop 1 to 4 days after infection and last for 2 to 7 days, and for the majority of people, the symptoms commonly resolve without treatment.

"The influenza vaccine remains the primary means for preventing seasonal influenza infection and should be administered at least before the influenza season (March to April).

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

The Star