Flu is back



Private laboratories have reported an increase in influenza cases in the country. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, also received reports of clusters of influenza cases in schools and workplaces.Earlier this month [November 2021], influenza cases detected by the syndromic sentinel surveillance programmes conducted by the NICD increased from 68 cases in late August [2021] to 226 cases. 

Medical epidemiologist at the Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis (CRDM) at the NICD, Dr Sibongile Walaza, said influenza may cause severe illness, which may require hospitalisation or cause death, although the majority of people will have mild illness.”Individuals who are at risk of getting severe influenza complications include pregnant women; HIV-infected individuals; those 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 the age of 2 years,” said Walaza. She added these groups should be encouraged to seek medical help early. 

Head of the CRDM, Prof Cheryl Cohen, said the increase in influenza in the summer, which is not the typical time for the influenza season, is likely the result of relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions to control COVID-19 combined with an immunity gap due to influenza not circulating for 2 years (2020 and 2021) in South Africa. She stressed that the influenza vaccine remains the primary means for preventing seasonal influenza infection and should ideally be administered before the influenza season, from March to April. 

Due to recent reductions in transmission, influenza may not circulate in the traditional seasonal period. It is never too late to vaccinate during periods when influenza is circulating, especially for individuals with underlying conditions which put them at increased risk of severe influenza illness or complications. To prevent contracting or spreading flu avoid close contact with sick people, stay home when you are sick, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, clean your hands regularly, avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose and clean and disinfect common places. Clinicians are encouraged to consider influenza as part of a differential diagnosis when managing patients presenting with respiratory illness. 

Communicated by: ProMED 

Acute respiratory tract infections are caused by influenza viruses.

It could be a mild illness known as “influenza-like illness” that progresses to a severe illness called “severe acute respiratory tract infections.” Influenza virus type A H3N2 is prevalent in various regions, but it is unclear which influenza virus was detected in South Africa based on this report. Other countries, such as Zimbabwe and Somalia, have reported influenza-like illness, although a large proportion of this clinical condition is caused by a respiratory virus. It is critical for countries to conduct a differential laboratory diagnosis in order to identify the causing agent. 

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