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Pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses at risk of severe complications of influenza!

Clinical virologist, Professor Nickie Goedhals, says South Africa is experiencing a peak in influenza virus activity. Pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses at risk of severe complications of influenza!

Goedhals says influenza activity is seasonal, with circulation peaking in winter. 

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases warns that pregnant women, people living with HIV and people with chronic conditions are at high risk of severe complications of influenza.


The past week has been hectic for Nomonde*, who has been battling flu – she lost her appetite, had a painful chest and did not have energy to do anything.

Nomonde, a 40-year-old Johannesburg mother, said the flu started with a painful chest on Saturday, and she bought over-the-counter medication.


On Saturday, the health department alerted the public of rising cases of influenza.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said it had received reports of influenza clusters in schools and workplaces.

The department described influenza, also known as flu, as an acute respiratory illness caused by an infection of the respiratory tract with the influenza virus.

Nomonde said:

On Sunday, I still had chest pains, and my whole body was sore. I thought I had Covid-19 because in 2020, when I tested positive for the virus, I had the same symptoms. It was worse when I lost my appetite on Monday and had no energy.

She said the flu had also affected her 10-year-old son.

“I could not do anything in the house; we survived on soup for the whole week. It was terrifying; I thought we were going to die. On Friday, I  decided to visit my doctor. She was concerned when she saw the redness in my throat, and she suggested we take a Covid-19 test. We both tested for Covid-19, and the results came back negative. We were given medication and went back home,” she said.

She said it took her two days to recover after she visited the doctor.

According to the NICD, the 2023 influenza season in South Africa started on 24 April and remains high.

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Pathcare clinical virologist, Professor Nickie Goedhals, said South Africa was experiencing a peak influenza virus activity, predominantly due to influenza A viruses.

She said influenza activity was seasonal, with circulation peaking in winter each year.

The influenza vaccination was the best way to prevent influenza infection and severe disease.

This vaccine should be given annually, and could be administered to anyone over the age of six months, but it was particularly important in people at high risk of severe illness.

Goedhals said:

RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] and influenza occur seasonally. Currently, the influenza season is under way in South Africa, with the RSV activity being on the decline after peaking in March. These viruses present similarly to Covid-19 and are also transmitted in the same way. It is generally very difficult to distinguish the respiratory viruses based on the symptoms, so laboratory testing is needed to confirm which specific virus is causing the illness

Professor Cheryl Cohen, head of the centre for respiratory diseases and Meningitis at the NICD, said three types of seasonal influenza were circulating.

“These three types are influenza A (H3N2), influenza A (H1N1) pdm09, and influenza B, which are common seasonal influenza strains in humans. Influenza A (H1N1) pdm09, sometimes incorrectly referred to as ‘swine flu’, has been one of the circulating seasonal influenza strains following its emergence in 2009. The term ‘swine flu’ should not be used as it causes unnecessary panic. The clinical course of infection and management of this strain is similar to other influenza strains,” she said.

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The NICD said that although most people with influenza would present with mild illness, influenza could cause severe illness, which may require hospitalisation, and could cause death, especially in individuals at risk of getting severe influenza illness or complications.

“Groups at increased risk of severe illness or complications of influenza include pregnant women, people living with HIV, people with chronic illnesses or conditions like diabetes, lung disease, tuberculosis, heart disease, renal disease and obesity, the elderly (65 years and older) and children less than 2 years old. These groups should be encouraged to seek medical help early,” the institute said.

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