IT’S FLU TIME IN SOUTH AFRICA
Influenza cases are on the rise in South Africa
Now that the masks are coming off as Covid related restrictions are being eased, good old fashioned flu is back.
According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the influenza (flu) season is upon us in the southern hemisphere and shouldn’t be taken lightly. In South Africa, the 2022 flu season started in the week of April 25 and numbers appear to have been increasing over the past few weeks.
A similar trend has been evident in Australia where cases tripled from April 25 compared to the previous two weeks. Here, the numbers of cases and hospitalisation are expected to continue to climb.
The bad news is that is has been reported in both Australia and South Africa that the 2022 flu season may be longer and more severe.
Flu is a respiratory tract infection caused by an influenza virus infection that can spread quickly, causing seasonal epidemics that may result in people becoming severely ill or even dying. Each year, flu causes up to 650 000 deaths worldwide with the highest numbers in sub-Saharan Africa.
Annually, there are over 11 000 flu-related deaths in South Africa and almost half of the close to 50 000 people experiencing severe flu may need to be hospitalised.
Flu viruses circulate at different times of the year, but in South Africa our seasonal flu usually has the most impact between May and September.
Dr Lourens Terblanche, Medical Head, Sanofi South Africa, says: “Right now, there appears to be a general increase in cases of flu both locally and abroad. Whilst non-pharmaceutical interventions like lockdowns, social distancing and mask wearing related to the COVID-19 pandemic afforded less opportunity for the influenza virus to circulate, the easing of these mandatory restrictions may facilitate a surge in flu cases.”
Sanofi is a leading multinational pharmaceutical manufacturer and its production facility is recognised as a global centre of excellence for the production of anti-tuberculosis medicine which is exported to 13 countries including Europe, Australia, the UK and Brazil. Sanofi’s diverse product portfolio extends across 15 key therapeutic areas including innovative and generic medicines which seek to address the country’s healthcare needs in key therapeutic areas such as diabetes, mental health, vaccines and self-care.
Against this background, Dr Terblanche points out that the best way to tackle the onset of the flu season is similar to that of Covid- vaccinate.
According to the World Health Organization and the NICD, flu vaccination is the most effective way to prevent disease and reduce the risk of getting severely ill.
Says Dr Terblanche: “In South Africa, annual flu vaccination is recommended for individuals at high risk of complications or severe outcomes of influenza. The vaccine is however available for any individual from the age of six months to help prevent influenza infection.”
Groups targeted as high risk in the Department of Health’s 2022 flu vaccination campaign are healthcare workers, persons aged 65 or older, those with cardiovascular disease (including chronic heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and diabetes), chronic lung disease (including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and people living with HIV, as well as pregnant women.
“Even in the absence of specific comorbidities, it is important to recognise persons aged over 65 years or younger than 2 years as being at risk, as well as pregnant women,” says Dr Terblanche.
The Director General of Health has indicated that the flu vaccine may now be given at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine, with each being given in a different arm.