Flu season tends to hit South Africans hard every winter with the annual new strains of this pesky little virus, but some flu seasons hit harder, the current season being one of them.
In May, 20% of the learners at Grey Junior School in Port Elizabeth were sent home after an apparent flu breakout. At the time, Headmaster Lindsay Pearson made an appeal to parents to keep their children at home for two days and advised that they take them for a visit to the doctor.
Twenty percent of the school’s staff were also sent home with the flu.
“The influenza season in South Africa occurs in the winter months and is expected to start in the coming weeks. On average the season begins in the first week of June. However, in past years the season has started as early as the last week of April and as late as the first week of July,” the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said.
“The severity of a season is due to a combination of factors including the circulating influenza strains, previous immunity in the population and spectrum of underlying illnesses and age distribution of the population. The NICD monitors the progression and severity of the influenza season through its surveillance sites throughout the country to provide real time information on season progression.”
The NCID urges all citizens to get a vaccination for the flu if they haven’t already.
“Influenza vaccine remains the primary means for preventing seasonal influenza infection. Although we are in the midst of the influenza season, it is never too late to vaccinate, as most years more than one strain of influenza circulates during the season. The annual seasonal influenza vaccine contains strains corresponding antigenically as closely as possible to the three seasonal influenza strains prevalent in human populations: influenza A(H1N1) pdm09, influenza A (H3N2) and influenza B. A protective antibody response takes about two weeks to develop,” the institute said.
According to the NCID, nearly 200 cases of influenza have been reported since the beginning of flu season in the Western Cape; at the last tally, the number of cases stood at 187.
What is the flu and who is at risk?
Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system — your nose, throat and lungs. Commonly called the flu, but influenza is not the same as stomach “flu” viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting.
For most people, influenza resolves on its own, but if complications arise they can sometimes be deadly. People at higher risk of developing flu complications include:
– Young children under the age of 5, and especially those under 2 years
– Adults older than 65 years
– Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
– Pregnant women and women up to two weeks postpartum
– People with weakened immune systems
– People who have chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes
– People who are very obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
– Though the annual influenza vaccine isn’t 100% effective, it’s still your best defence against the flu.
Initially, the flu may seem like a common cold, as those affected will often experience a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. But colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to come on suddenly and usually feels much worse than a cold.
Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
– Fever over 38°C
– Aching muscles
– Chills and sweats
– Dry, persistent cough
– Fatigue and weakness
– Nasal congestion
– Sore throat
When to see a doctor
If you have flu symptoms and are at risk of complications, see your doctor right away. Taking antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours after you first notice symptoms may reduce the length of your illness and help prevent more serious problems.