Swine flu explained: prevention tips, symptoms and when to seek help



Published May 22, 2024


The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development of South Africa released a report at the end of April detailing the current status of swine flu outbreaks in the country.

South Africa is currently dealing with four ongoing swine flu outbreak events and has recently resolved one, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH).

First Outbreak (2019)

This affects the Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North-West and Northern Cape provinces. There are 190 reported outbreaks, with 62 still active and 128 resolved.

Second Outbreak (2020)

In the Eastern Cape Province, there are 46 reported outbreaks, with 29 still active and 17 resolved.

Third Outbreak (2021)

Occurring in the Western Cape, there are 56 reported outbreaks, with 29 still active and 27 resolved.

Fourth Outbreak (2022)

This affected KwaZulu-Natal and involved two outbreaks, both of which are now resolved.

Fifth Outbreak (2023)

Also in KwaZulu-Natal, with two reported outbreaks; one is still active, and one is resolved.

Additionally, four cases of swine flu have been reported within the legislated African Swine Fever controlled area. Limpopo reported three outbreaks (two in 2022 and one in 2023), while Mpumalanga reported one outbreak in 2023.

What is swine flu?

Swine flu, also known as H1N1, is a viral infection resembling the respiratory infection pigs get. In 2009, an H1N1 pandemic affected millions globally. Today, you can prevent H1N1 with an annual flu shot, and it can be treated with rest, fluids and antiviral medications.

The symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of seasonal flu. Picture: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

The symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of seasonal flu. They include: sudden high fever, cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, headache, body aches, chills, tiredness and a loss of appetite.

Some people may also experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

If you have symptoms of swine flu and they are mild, follow these steps, according to the Western Cape Government:

Stay home

Adults and children with symptoms should stay home for seven days after symptoms start or until they have been without symptoms for 24 hours – whichever is longer.

Stay hydrated

Drink clear fluids like water, broth, sports drinks, or electrolyte beverages for infants to avoid dehydration.

Dispose of items properly

Throw away tissues and other disposables used by the sick person in the rubbish. Wash your hands after handling used tissues and waste.

Hand hygiene

Everyone in the household should wash their hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are also effective.

Avoid touching your face

Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

Isolate the sick person

The sick person should stay in his/her own room as much as possible.

Keep your distance

If someone in your home is sick, try to keep them away from those who are not sick as much as possible.

Seek emergency care if you have: fast breathing or trouble breathing, bluish or grey skin colour, not drinking enough fluids, severe or persistent vomiting, not waking up or not interacting, being so irritable that the child does not want to be held, and flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.

Most people around the world who catch the pandemic virus have mild symptoms and get better within a week without any medical help.

However, some groups are at a higher risk of getting very sick or even dying from the virus. These include people with: chronic lung diseases like asthma, heart disease, diabetesand weak immune systems.

Early studies also suggest that being overweight, especially extremely so, might increase the risk of severe illness.

Understanding the differences between swine flu and "normal" flu

The swine flu, or pandemic A (H1N1) influenza, is a new type of influenza virus.

Here are the key differences between swine flu and the regular flu.

Both swine flu and regular flu belong to the influenza virus family, but they are different strains.

While most influenza viruses infect either birds or mammals, the swine flu virus originated in pigs. However, it now spreads only among humans, not from pigs to humans.

Is swine flu more dangerous or deadly?

More people die annually from other causes like road accidents, TB and AIDS. Pandemics, however, can cause many deaths, particularly among young and healthy individuals.

The number of deaths during a pandemic depends on the virus' severity, crowding, individual health, access to health care and preventive measures.

Can ordinary flu turn into swine flu?

Yes. Recovery and duration of recovery differ from person to person depending on the strength of the person’s immune system.