The National Communicable Institute provides an update on the flu season, including growing rates and key cautions

Published Jun 18, 2024


As winter settles over the country, temperatures have dropped significantly, bringing a true chill to the air. People across towns and cities are bundled up in heavy coats, scarves, and gloves, braving the cold as they go about their daily lives.

Snowfall has been reported in several regions, making for picturesque landscapes but also leading to some challenges.

This winter, two viruses are of particular concern across South Africa: swine flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). Both are showing prominence among those experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Swine flu symptoms closely mirror those of regular flu, including fever, body aches, chills, fatigue, sore throat, and headaches. On the other hand, RSV primarily affects the respiratory tract, leading to high fever, chest wheezing, rapid or difficult breathing, and a severe cough.

While most patients with swine flu or RSV are expected to recover fully, some may experience lingering symptoms even after the virus has cleared. An unexpected post-infection symptom common to Covid-19, swine flu, and RSV has also been noted.

The South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases recently released an update on the influenza season, which began in week 17 (starting April 22). There has been a steady increase in influenza cases from the pneumonia surveillance sentinel sites.

Based on data from previous flu seasons (2016-2019 and 2022-2023), the 2024 flu season's transmission and impact are currently at a moderate level.

As of May 26, among the patients enrolled in the Pneumonia Surveillance Programme, the most commonly detected flu subtype is influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 (90 out of 116 cases, or 77.6%).

This is followed by influenza B/Victoria (23 out of 116 cases, or 19.8%) and influenza A(H3N2) (3 out of 116 cases, or 2.6%).

Health officials urge the public to remain vigilant and take necessary precautions, like maintaining good hygiene. Picture: Cottonbro studios/Pexels

Health officials urge the public to remain vigilant and take necessary precautions, like maintaining good hygiene and considering flu vaccinations, to minimise the risk of infection during this season.

Flu detection rates have surged from week 17 to week 21, this year, exceeding the average rates seen in these weeks from past seasons (2016-2019 and 2022). Though higher, they are similar to the levels observed in the 2023 flu season.

Hospital admissions and outpatient visits for respiratory illnesses are also matching last year’s peak levels. This data comes from a private hospital group and family doctors.

Doctors are urged to consider the flu when diagnosing patients with respiratory issues. While most flu cases are mild, the illness can be severe, leading to hospitalisation or even death, especially in vulnerable groups.

High-risk individuals include:

  • Pregnant women (up to 6 weeks postpartum)
  • People living with HIV
  • Individuals with chronic conditions like diabetes, lung disease, tuberculosis, heart disease, kidney disease, and obesity
  • Seniors (65 and older)
  • Young children (under 2 years old)

These groups should seek medical help early if showing flu symptoms, advised the NCID.

Vaccination reminder

Even though flu season has started, getting the flu vaccine is still the best way to prevent illness. Ideally, it would help if you got the vaccine before the flu season begins, but it’s never too late to get vaccinated.

This is especially important for people with health conditions that put them at higher risk for severe flu complications.

To avoid catching or spreading the flu, follow these recommendations:

  • Stay away from sick people.
  • Stay home if you feel sick.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes (use your elbow or a tissue, and dispose of the tissue properly).
  • Stay informed and protect yourself this flu season.