The Department of Health has alerted the public of an increasing circulation of influenza, also known as “flu”, around the country since the beginning of May 2023.
The department was notified by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) about the rising cases.
In a statement on Saturday, the department said the cases have been steadily increasing since 10 April 2023 and the NICD has received reports of influenza clusters in schools and workplaces.
An increase in case numbers has been identified in six provinces namely KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and North West, where surveillance is conducted.
Influenza or flu is an acute respiratory illness caused by an infection of the respiratory tract with the influenza virus.
“There are two types of influenza viruses that commonly infect humans namely A and B. The flu viruses are typically in circulation before the winter season in South Africa.
“The virus spreads from person to person through inhalation of infected respiratory droplets when people are sneezing, coughing or talking. A person can also be infected by touching contaminated objects or surfaces that the flu virus is on and then touching their mouth, eyes or nose,” the department said.
People who are infected with influenza can prevent spread by covering their mouth when coughing with a tissue or cough into the elbow; wearing a mask, washing their hands frequently with soap and water or cleaning hands using an alcohol-based sanitiser; or staying at home and trying to keep a distance from others.
“Although majority of people with influenza will present with mild illness, influenza may cause severe illness, which may require hospitalisation or cause death, especially in individuals who are at risk of getting severe influenza illness or complications,” the department said.
People at increased risk of severe health complications of influenza include pregnant women, people living with conditions like HIV and others chronic illnesses or conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, tuberculosis, heart disease, renal disease and obesity.
Elderly people, who are 65 years and older, and children younger than 2 years old are also at increased risk of severe health complications.
The department said these groups should be encouraged to seek medical help early.
The most common symptoms include fever, muscle pains and body aches, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, feeling tired or unwell and headache.
These may develop 1 to 4 days after infection and last for 2 to 7 days. For the majority of people, the symptoms commonly resolve without treatment.
“The influenza vaccine remains the primary means for preventing seasonal influenza infection, and should be administered at least before the influenza season (March to April).
“However, even if the season has already started, it is never too late to get vaccinated, especially individuals who are high risk of severe influenza illness or complications,” the department said.