Flu season is quickly approaching in South Africa, potentially bringing with it disastrous effects on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers are positing that the incoming influenza season will dramatically heighten coronavirus-related deaths and infection rate.

In the latest SA Medical Journal (SAMJ), leading scientists compared the virus with the 2009 outbreak of H1N1. These infections increased during winter but declined when spring began. Many of the H1N1 deaths were associated with HIV and tuberculosis co-infections, much like COVID-19 and its co-morbidities.

“The incidence of H1N1 infections declined significantly during the transition from winter to spring in SA, suggesting that winter, the typical season for influenza, may have been conducive to the spread of the H1N1 virus. Similarly, the colder temperatures in winter may be conducive to the spread of the SARS-Cov-2 virus, as is the case for seasonal influenza,” reads the Journal.

“Fatalities among young adults killed by the H1N1 were related to TB, HIV, being pregnant and pre-existing metabolic conditions.”

The scientists predict that HIV and TB could further emphasise the COVID-19 situation in South Africa, which has the highest burden of HIV in the world. Those with both COVID-19 and HIV or TB could face a much more severe form of the disease. Scientists also warn that HIV or TB treatment could be disrupted by healthcare’s current focus on COVID-19.

“Although the associations with HIV and TB are not yet clear in the preliminary Covid-19 data, it is highly likely the estimation of the coronavirus impact would be confounded by these two well-established epidemics.”

Researchers say surveillance strategies are needed to evaluate the risks of COVID-19 and those infected with seasonal influenza. These coinfections could heighten the severity of the disease and its mortality rate.

They also argue that preliminary COVID-19 data could further be strengthened by looking at past pandemic data in SA to help structure the public health response.

“These factors suggest the importance of integrating multiple SA-specific parameters in mathematical models that estimate Covid-19 impacts and in optimally scaling up virus prevention and mitigation strategies,” the scientists said in the Journal.

Also read: SA coronavirus deaths to reach 1000 this week

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