No influenza or 'swine flu' outbreak in SA: Health authorities

No influenza or 'swine flu' outbreak in SA: Health authorities

This week Gauteng Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi closed down Laerskool Kenmare in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg following the emergence of what he called "a flu-like disease."

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The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has moved to allay fears that South Africa is experiencing an influenza outbreak, saying this is not the case. 

On Tuesday, the NICD released a statement saying the 2019 South African influenza season started towards the end of April and reached high levels in the Viral Watch programme. 

However, the increase in influenza cases is a normal, expected increase that takes place in winter, according to the NICD.

"Every year in South Africa, we see a marked increase in influenza transmission during the winter, called the influenza season. During this period, numbers of people infected with influenza increases, including patients seeking outpatient care and hospitalised individuals," said the NICD's Professor Cheryl Cohen. 

"It is also common to observe clusters of influenza cases within homes and workplaces as people spread the infection to one another. Another common site of clusters of influenza infections is within schools because children are important transmitters of influenza and often have close contact with one another in the school environment. These clusters are expected and are not a cause for alarm."

Cohen says the best way to prevent the spread of influenza is to stay home from school or work, if you are sick, so as to not transmit the infection to others. 

It is important to wash hands frequently and dispose of tissues away from others. Bed rest and taking lots of fluid is recommended. 

You should seek medical care if there are worrying signs such as chest pain or shortness of breath. 

According to Cohen, school closures are not recommended as these can be disruptive and will not necessarily stop the spread of influenza.

This week Gauteng Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi closed down Laerskool Kenmare in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg following the emergence of what he called "a flu-like disease."

After visiting the school, Lesufi Tweeted:  "We’ve since decided to close the school indefinitely and quarantine the premises until health officials can advise us otherwise."

The NICD monitors the influenza season each year through its surveillance programmes. 

It says this year, the transmission of influenza has reached high levels in the Viral Watch programme, as determined by the Moving Epidemic Method. 

It says the impact of influenza (a measure of how much severe illness we see in the season) is currently moderate. 

"To date, the majority 357/390 (92%) of influenza positive samples for this season, detected by three surveillance programmes, have been identified as influenza A(H3N2)."

The NICD says there have been several recent media reports of outbreaks of so-called “swine flu” in schools. 

"The term “swine flu” is an incorrect term as this refers to a disease of pigs. This term is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to the influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 influenza subtype which emerged in 2009. This subtype of influenza is a normal seasonal influenza strain and behaves like any other type of influenza," said Cohen. 

The Gauteng Department of Education echoed the NICD's statement, assuring the public there is no swine flu outbreak.


“I would like to allay any fears about the outbreak and spread of the disease and reaffirm the NICD reports of the 2019 South African influenza season," said Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku. 


“We would like to encourage Gauteng residents to present themselves to the nearby facilities if they experience aforementioned signs and symptoms,” said Masuku. 


As part of preventative measures to control the spread of flu and other airborne diseases - the public is encouraged to cover their mouth when coughing/sneezing (e.g. cough into tissues, cough into a sleeve) and also to discard used tissues and wash hands with soap at all times.


The Department is also calling on vulnerable people such as children, those on chronic medication, HIV positive patients, and those over 65 years, as well as pregnant women, to visit their nearest health facilities to vaccinate against influenza.

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