South Africa

Winter is coming! ‘Swine Flu’ infections are up

Flu Stock Photo

South Africans expecting a physically draining and longer-lasting strain of flu are told not to worry.

Commonly referred to as swine flu by much of the public, the H1N1 virus is one of the strains of flu currently doing the rounds.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) stressed that using the term “swine flu” was incorrect, as it denoted influenza found in pigs.

The common adoption of the term, Cleveland Clinic clarifies, comes from a strain resembling an infection that originated in pigs.

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H1N1 is termed Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, and has the same clinical presentation as the other strains of flu that are prevalent.

South African flu season

Dr Sibongile Walaza explained to The Citizen that the flu season in the country began in the week of 22 April and that it is an Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 strain that is affecting most people.

The other two seasonal strains most commonly being contracted are Influenza A(H3N2) and Influenza B/Victoria.

“From our surveillance programme, three seasonal strains are currently causing influenza. Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 is one of the seasonal influenza strains and should not be referred to as swine flu as this is incorrect, misleading and causes unnecessary panic,” explained Dr Walaza.

Private hospitals seeing expected levels of admissions

General manager of Clinical Services at Mediclinic Southern Africa Dr Melanie Stander told The Citizen that their hospitals were experiencing patient patterns in line with the national trend.

“Mediclinic can confirm that we have seen an expected increase in isolation of viral respiratory infections associated with the annual circulating respiratory pathogens, predominated by strains of Influenza A and B, Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Adenovirus and SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) to a lesser degree,” stated Dr Stander.

She recommended that those seeking protection should receive their annual flu vaccine, especially high-risk individuals.

Seeking treatment for flu

Most cases of influenza are effectively managed at primary health care level, as per Netcare Medicross’ Dr Cathelijn Zeijlemaker.

The family physician and medical director concurs with the need to take the annual flu shot, saying: “This year’s influenza vaccine contains protection for strains of Influenza A(H1N1), Influenza A(H3N2) and Influenza B”.

“Influenza can cause severe prolonged illness and complications. It is therefore very important to seek medical advice if you are not getting better, start to feel worse or experience chest pains or shortness of breath,” added Dr Zeijlemaker.

Dr Walaza seconded the suggestions but stated the treatment for the various strains was the same, and that there was no special recommendation for influenza A(H1N1)pdm09.

“A certain group of individuals are at increased risk of having severe influenza illness or complications, including death. These include those aged 65 years and above, individuals with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung diseases, heart conditions, obesity, cancer,” advised Dr Walaza.

“[Also], people living with HIV, pregnant women and very young children. For this group of individuals seeking care early is advisable,” she concluded.

For more information on the symptoms or treatment protocols, please visit the NICD.