The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has reported a significant increase in flu cases across South Africa.
The NICD cautioned against using the term ‘swine flu’ when referring to Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, as it causes unnecessary panic and is not the correct term for the circulating influenza strain.
According to the NICD, influenza cases have been steadily increasing since early April 2023 at sentinel influenza-like illness (ILI) and pneumonia surveillance sites. Private laboratories have also detected increasing numbers of influenza cases, and the NICD has received reports of influenza clusters in schools and workplaces.
The 2023 influenza season began in late April 2023 when the influenza detection rate (3-week moving average) breached the seasonal threshold. It remained at low activity for two consecutive weeks in the pneumonia surveillance program.
“The increase in case numbers has been identified in all six provinces where surveillance is conducted. As of May 28, 2023, the most commonly detected subtype and lineage is influenza A (H3N2) (146/272, 55%), followed by influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 (116/272, 43%), and influenza B Victoria (3/272, 1%),” states the NICD.
The NICD emphasises that influenza A(H3N2), A(H1N1)pdm09, and influenza B are common seasonal influenza strains in humans.
“Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, sometimes incorrectly referred to as ‘swine flu,’ has been one of the circulating seasonal influenza strains since its emergence in 2009. The term ‘swine flu’ should not be used as it causes unnecessary panic. The clinical course of infection and management of this strain are similar to other influenza strains,” explains the national public health institute.
Furthermore, although most people with influenza experience mild illness, it can cause severe illness, hospitalisation, or even death. This is especially true in individuals at risk of severe influenza illness or complications.
“People at increased risk of severe illness or complications of influenza include pregnant women, people living with HIV, individuals with chronic illnesses or conditions like diabetes, lung disease, tuberculosis, heart disease, renal disease, and obesity, the elderly (65 years and older), and children under 2 years old. We should encourage these groups to seek medical help early,” stresses the NICD.
As the influenza season is underway, the health institute highlights that the influenza vaccine remains the primary means of preventing seasonal influenza infection.
“Ideally, the vaccine should be administered before the influenza season. However, even if the season has already started, it is never too late to get vaccinated, especially for individuals at high risk of severe influenza illness or complications,” says the NICD.
While promoting vaccines and educating the public about the current strains of influenza surging through the country, the NICD also emphasises a series of measures to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the influenza virus:
- Avoid close contact with sick individuals.
- Stay home when feeling unwell.
- Cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
- Practice regular hand hygiene. Avoid touching the mouth, eyes, and nose, and clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces.
As the incidence of influenza cases continues to rise, we invite readers to share their thoughts on the matter in the comment section below.