0250 GMT October 22, 2020
The South African National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has declared the 2019 flu season worse than last year, with the risk of contracting these respiratory illnesses extending until October, iol.co.za wrote.
“There has been a marked increase in flu and pneumonia cases in South Africa compared to last year,” pharmaceutical company Pharma Dynamics spokesperson Nicole Jennings told The Saturday Star this week.
According to the NICD, the strain prevalent this year has been identified as influenza A (H3N2).
“The majority 711/783 (91 percent) of influenza positive samples for this season have been identified as influenza A (H3N2).”
“Influenza A is one of the three seasonal influenza viruses prevalent in human populations,” NICD spokesperson Muzikayise Maseko said.
This strain was detected by three NICD surveillance programs.
Influenza A strain has been associated with a higher intensity of symptoms and more frequent hospitalizations. The predominant strain which affected South Africans last year was the less severe H1N1.
Another aspect of this year’s cold and flu season was that it started much sooner than expected.
The NICD said while the flu season generally starts the first week in June, last year’s seasonal flu threshold was reached in the week ending May 6.
But in 2019, the patients started getting colds and flu as early as April.
“The influenza season started in week 16 (week ending April 21) and is ongoing,” Maseko said.
“The peak of the season is usually in the first week of July.”
Maseko said it was difficult to predict the end of the season, but on average the season ends by the end of September or early October.
“The average length of the influenza season is 18 weeks; there is no reason to believe this year will be much different.”
Despite a virulent strain of influenza which is expected to last longer in South Africa, Jennings said flu cases among school pupils were expected to have dropped due to the school holidays.
While Pharma Dynamics defines the cold and the flu as respiratory illnesses, Jennings said they were caused by different viruses.
“In general, the flu is worse than the common cold and symptoms are more intense.”
The NICD said the only definitive way to differentiate between influenza and other respiratory viruses is to test a respiratory sample in the laboratory.
But Maseko said colds are generally defined as mild respiratory illnesses and are caused by a number of respiratory viruses including rhinovirus, parainfluenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus.
“The symptoms of a cold are usually in the upper airways and include sore throat, blocked or runny nose, cough and perhaps a headache.”
Maseko said influenza was more severe and usually started very suddenly, even within a few hours, and was associated with fever, muscle aches and severe malaise.
“Influenza also causes respiratory symptoms including cough, runny nose, sore throat and shortness of breath.”
Those who suffer from underlying illnesses such as HIV, diabetes, heart disease, chronic respiratory illness, cancer and other conditions that affect the immune system, are at risk of severe influenza which may cause life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia.
“Pregnant women or very young children and the elderly are also at risk of more severe influenza. Although the best time to vaccinate is in March/April of each year, it is never too late to vaccinate.
“Annual vaccination is needed as the formulation changes from year to year due to different subtypes of influenza that are thought to be circulating.”
As no vaccine is 100 percent effective, Maseko suggested people wash their hands frequently and avoid contact with sick people.
“If you have contracted the flu, take at least two to three days off work,” said Jennings.