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Compiled by Bonginkosi Tiwane

Digital Journalist

Health department warns of rising flu cases

The cases have been steadily increasing since early April and the NICD has received reports of flu clusters in schools and workplaces.

With this weekend being the first official one of winter, the Health Department has warned of rising cases of influenza in the country.

Sending out the warning through a statement, the department said it was notified by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of the increasing circulation of influenza around the country since the beginning of May.

Flu on the rise

The cases have been steadily increasing since early April and the NICD has received reports of flu clusters in schools and workplaces. Influenza, 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 flu 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 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.

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“People who are infected with influenza can prevent 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 flu season started in the last week of April when the detection rate (three-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; KZN, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and the North West where surveillance is conducted.

The most vulnerable

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

People at increased risk of severe health complications of flu 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. T

hese groups should be encouraged to seek medical help early.

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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 1 to 4 days after infection and last for 2 to 7 days. For the majority of people, the symptoms commonly resolve without treatment.

Flu 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 individuals who are high risk of severe influenza illness or complications.

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