The flu season in South Africa, often said to be between May and September, is not usually a cause for concern given the short duration of influenza or the ‘common’ cold’. However the recent spread of swine flu (H1N1 flu) coupled with the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa will undoubtedly prove to be worrying factors in the upcoming flu season. Swine flu, the common cold and the annual flu are viral infections that can be effectively managed with little need for emergency medical attention should sufferers identify their infections at an early stage, seek medical assistance and take the necessary steps to recover as in any other flu season.
Swine Flu Symptoms, Common Cold & Annual Flu
The swine flu, common cold and annual flu all share similar symptoms as they are short lived viral infections with generalized symptoms. Fever, fatigue and lethargy (tiredness), ENT (ear-nose-throat) symptoms like a runny nose, cough, sore throat, headaches and swollen lymph nodes (‘glands’) are common symptoms of all three viral infections and this often makes it difficult to differentiate between the flu and cold. Therefore a case history is important especially in terms of swine flu and the patient’s exposure to any person(s) who had previously travelled to a swine flu hotspot and any chronic conditions that may lower your immune functioning.
If you believe that you may be at risk of contracting swine flu (H1N1 flu) based on your history, or if you are suffering with other symptoms like diarrhea and vomitting, difficulty breathing and extremely high fevers with severe chills, it is advisable that you contact your medical practitioner immediately. Please note that diarrhea/diarrhoea and vomitting, respiratory complications (difficult breathing, bronchitis, etc) and high fevers may also occur in cases of the common cold and annual flu and are not only symptoms of swine flu.
Flu Vaccine for the Flu Season
It is usually advisable that children, the elderly, those suffering with certain chronic conditions or those at high risk (like health care workers) should opt for the flu vaccine prior to the onset of the flu season. Always consult with your medical practitioner for advice on taking the flu vaccine especially if you are suffering with chronic conditions or are HIV positive. While the flu vaccine may not be contraindicated for your condition, the doctor supervising your chronic case will be best suited to inform you accordingly.
The flu vaccine is not 100% effective in that it will not guarantee that you will remain free of the flu throughout the flu season. However it does significantly reduce your chances of getting the flu and usually reduces the severity of your flu symptoms should you get infected. Self medicating during the flu season is a widespread practice in South Africa and should be discouraged as far as possible especially if you are suffering with a chronic condition or are HIV positive and using anti-retrovirals (ARVs).
Swine Flu, Chronic Conditions & HIV/AIDS
Concerns about swine flu will undoubtedly abound for months to come and if in doubt, immediately consult with your doctor. The recent news of deaths from swine flu in the United States and Canada has once again sparked global concern about swine flu but it must be noted that these deaths were in infected persons with pre-existing or chronic conditions. Proper management by your medical doctor and the use of anti-virals like Tamiflu may help with reducing the severity of symptoms or preventing infection altogether. Just as important as any drug, strict bed rest, good hygiene, healthy eating and plenty of fluids will assist with making a speedy recovery.