Cold and flu season hits SA early but strain not as severe

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The cold and flu season might have hit South Africa sooner than expected this year, but the strain affecting local patients is not as serious as the one that affected the US, reports The Saturday Star.

During the US flu season, the country was hit by H3N2, a severe strain. According to a medical expert, this strain has been associated with a higher intensity of symptoms, more frequent hospitalisations and even death. But local experts insist that a similar strain is not expected in South Africa, although many will still be susceptible to colds and flu this winter.

The report says the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) explained that H3N2 was the predominant strain circulating in South Africa last year. NICD epidemiologist Jo McAnerney says that the predominant strain of flu this year is H1N1.
“To date 99% of influenza-positive samples for this season have been identified as influenza A (H1N1).

“This was the strain that emerged globally in 2009, and which for the past several years has behaved like any strain of seasonal influenza. Patients infected with this strain should be treated like any other seasonal influenza case,” she said. “At this stage there is nothing to suggest that the South African influenza season will be more severe, but we are monitoring on an ongoing basis.”

The report says another aspect of this year’s cold and flu season was that it started much sooner than expected. According to the NICD, the influenza season generally starts the first week in June, but this year the seasonal flu threshold was reached in the week ending 6 May.

“Every season is different, which includes timing, circulating strain and severity,” McAnerney said. “This year the season started three weeks earlier than 2017 and the level of transmission is similar to what has been seen in previous years.”

She added that the average duration of the colds and flu season over the past 33 years has been about 12 weeks in total.

The Saturday Star

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