Covid-19 measures delay spread of flu

Regular sanitising and wearing masks in public spaces have helped restrain the annual flu season this year. / Gallo Images/Lefty Shivambu
Regular sanitising and wearing masks in public spaces have helped restrain the annual flu season this year. / Gallo Images/Lefty Shivambu

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) yesterday said the precautions people are practising - such as mask-wearing, sanitising and social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus - have possibly delayed the spread of influenza this year.

The institute said the peak season for flu is around June, which has come and gone without much activity.

"To date, the influenza season, which occurs mainly during the winter months of May to August, has not started. It's likely the Covid-19 pandemic influenced health-seeking behaviour as well as staffing or routines in sentinel surveillance sites," the NICD said in this month's online magazine.

Like the coronavirus, influenza is a respiratory infection, symptoms of which include the sudden onset of fever, a dry cough and sore throat. Other symptoms include headaches, fatigue, muscle pain and body aches, cold shivers and hot sweats. Some people may also experience vomiting and diarrhoea.

Flu also spreads like the coronavirus - mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are close by. You can also catch flu by touching a surface or an object that has a flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose.

It is not just SA that has seen an interruption in the spread of flu this year.

"Globally, influenza activity has been at lower levels than expected and to date, none of the southern hemisphere countries have reported any influenza activity.

"Since the localised outbreak of influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 and influenza B Victoria in the Western Cape province in the beginning of the year, there has been one detection of influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 in Gauteng from a viral watch surveillance site in the week ending June 14. Over the past 36 years, the mean peak of the season has been the last week of June," the institute said.

Just like the flu, hardly any cases of rabies have been recorded in the country this year. Rabies is a disease transmitted from animals - usually from dogs to humans.

The NICD explained that the virus was transmitted in the saliva of rabid animals and generally enters the body via infiltration of virus-laden saliva from a rabid animal into a wound (for example scratches), or by direct exposure of mucosal surfaces to saliva from an infected animal (for example bites).

This contrasts with the situation in 2019 when, between January and June, eight rabies cases were confirmed from 27 suspected cases.

This year, only eight people have been screened for rabies.

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