Swine flu – what you need to know

The death of a young boy with swine flu symptoms in Krugersdorp led to fears of an outbreak across the country, but his death was caused by pneumonia, reported The South African.

A particularly virulent strain of flu is doing the rounds in South Africa, which sparked fears that the swine flu that killed several people in 2009 had returned.

The MEC for Health in KwaZulu-Natal, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, said there is no swine flu outbreak, after the H1N1 virus claimed the life of a nine-year-old girl in Pietermaritzburg on Friday, 19 July 2019.

Watch: KZN calls for calm after H1N1 case confirmed

Simelane-Zulu said this “does not constitute an outbreak”. She said the H1N1 virus “is now a seasonal influenza virus that becomes prevalent in winter and co-circulates with other seasonal viruses and it is thus being treated as normal flu”.

“We have issued a notice to health facilities across the province to ensure that they are on the lookout for severe types of influenza, and treat them with urgency. If influenza is treated on time and treated correctly, it need not have any devastating results,” Simelane-Zulu said.

Isolated reports of swine flu diagnosis began to surface in May when a child at Kontiki Pre-Primary School in Bloemfontein was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus.

What are the signs and symptoms?

According to the Health Department signs of H1N1 influenza are the same as for seasonal flu. Both cause “flu-like symptoms” which include fever in excess of 38°C and one or more of the following:

  • a sore throat
  • a runny or blocked nose
  • coughing and sneezing
  • muscle aches and/or
  • vomiting and diarrhoea

It is critical that influenza H1N1 be highly considered in any pregnant woman with influenza-like symptoms (fever, muscle pain and/or dry cough).

Other high risk groups include people with underlying medical conditions such as lung conditions; asthma; heart conditions; and people with weak immune systems. Other risk factors may include HIV/AIDS and diabetes.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), routine testing of all persons with influenza-like illness for H1N1 is not recommended and laboratory focus has to be on identifying persons with more severe illnesses.

What is influenza H1N1 or swine flu?

Initially this virus was thought to be a type of influenza virus that infects pigs and sometimes spread to humans (hence the initial name of “swine flu”). However, recent studies have revealed that it is a new virus formed by the recombination of several different genetic elements from pigs, birds and human species.

How is the virus spread?

Transmission is from person to person similar to “seasonal influenza” and mainly through respiratory droplet transmission. People are infected when they breathe in droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. One can also get infected if there is contact with inanimate surfaces such as door handles or the hands of others that are contaminated with the virus and then by touching your mouth, nose or eyes. You will not get the infection by eating pork or pork products.

What to do if you get sick

If you come into contact with someone identified with H1N1 flu or you become ill with influenza-like symptoms as described above, you should stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least seven days or until your symptoms have resolved. You should not leave your home except to seek medical care. You can take medications for symptomatic relief; should drink a lot of clear fluids (water, energy drinks, soup, etc.); and rest and keep warm. Children younger than 18 should not use aspirin as this can cause an interaction with the flu virus and lead to nerve damage.

If you have signs of severe illness or are part of a high risk group, seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing and / or treatment are needed.

Signs of severe infection that warrant urgent medical attention

In children:

  • Fast breathing or trouble with breathing
  • Bluish or grey skin colour
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Drowsiness or unconsciousness
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse symptoms

In adults:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Moderate to severe pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse symptoms

Source: Capricorn Review