swine flu fears grow

EIGHTEEN people have been killed by swine flu in South Africa in less than a month.

EIGHTEEN people have been killed by swine flu in South Africa in less than a month.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) now fears the number could continue to escalate.

"The number of people infected with the H1N1 virus stood at 5118 yesterday (Sunday)," NICD spokesperson Nombuso Shabalala said.

"Nine of the people who died were pregnant women, with the majority in the third trimester of pregnancy," she said.

"Pregnancy has been identified as a particular risk factor for severe H1N1 illness in many other countries.

"It is critical that H1N1 infection receives particular attention in pregnant women who have flu-like symptoms."

Swine flu was first detected in the country on June 12. Since then it has spread rapidly to all provinces, with Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal affected the most.

Early this month, the first death due to the H1N1 virus was recorded in Cape Town.

Last week, two pregnant women were also certified to have died of the influenza.

Shabalala said yesterday: "In the earlier stages of pregnancy the decision to treat must be made by the doctor based on the clinical condition of the patient.

"In the second, and especially the third, trimester of pregnancy urgent treatment should be considered with the appropriate antiviral drugs, particularly if there is any sign of pneumonia (shortness of breath) and prior to any laboratory testing and results being received.

Other risk factors for severe illness might include asthma, diabetes, any chronic heart and lung condition and any cause of depressed immunity. Early treatment should also be considered even for mild illness," she said.

She said that "the majority of the illness remained mild and self-limiting. Routine testing of all persons with influenza-like illness for H1N1 is not recommended".