19 August 2009
South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has discouraged the overuse of testing and the use of the drug Tamiflu by people with symptoms of H1N1 influenza, known as swine flu.
NICD deputy director Dr Lucille Bloomberg says most confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza are mild cases that do not call for laboratory testing or the intake of Tamiflu. This is only called for, she said, in severe cases, as well as among people in the high-risk group.
“This pandemic is regarded as moderate, not severe, and not everyone with H1N1 influenza needs the laboratory tests,” Bloomberg told BuaNews this week. “We can diagnose people without testing and treat them accordingly.”
“The majority of people have mild cases of H1N1 and don’t need any treatment but a rest at home. Don’t do any exercise, and take sufficient amount of fluids,” Bloomberg said, warning that excessive use of Tamiflu could encourage resistance.
People with mild cases could expect to recover after about seven days, she added.
Swine flu hotline
South Africa has set up a hotline, as well as a dedicated e-mail address, for public queries about H1N1 influenza, or swine flu.
- The hotline number is 0861 364 232 (or 0861 DOH CDC)
- The e-mail address is: H1N1@health.gov.za
The hotline is operated by trained personnel on communicable diseases, supported by experts from the Department of Health.
As of 19 August 2009, South Africa had over 3 400 confirmed cases of swine flu, while the number of deaths in the country related to the pandemic stood at six.
What is swine flu?
According to the Department of Health, swine flu is an airborne disease that spreads in the same way as seasonal flu, through coughing and sneezing. It cannot be caught by eating pork.
Transmission can be avoided by coughing or sneezing into a tissue or hanky; by washing one’s hands regularly; and by avoiding crowded areas, especially if people have symptoms of the flu.
It is treatable with antiviral medication, which is available in South Africa but may only be used under a medical doctor’s direction.
Symptoms can be divided into “mild”, “moderate” and “severe”. Mild symptoms include a runny or blocked nose, fever, muscular aches and pains, a general feeling of unwellness and coughing.
Moderate symptoms include mild symptoms as well as shortness of breath, chest pain, persistent vomiting and diarrhoea and signs of dehydration.
Severe symptoms include mild and moderate symptoms as well as signs of respiratory distress, blue lips and other parts of the body, and severe drowsiness and loss of consciousness.
People who are suffering from the symptoms should see their doctor.
“The overwhelming majority of people have mild symptoms and will not need any specialised medical care, and we believe nothing should happen to them,” Health Minister Motsoaledi said last week. “Such symptoms should be treated as with other influenza-like symptoms.”
However, people with chronic heart or lung disease, pregnant women, or people living with HIV/Aids, should seek medical care immediately if they develop even mild symptoms.
Anyone with moderate or severe symptoms should also seek medical attention immediately.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says illnesses such as existing cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, diabetes and cancer are considered risk factors for swine flu.
“Asthma and other forms of respiratory disease have been consistently reported as underlying conditions associated with an augmented risk of severe pandemic disease in several countries,” the WHO said in a recent statement.
According to the WHO, recent reports suggest obesity may be another risk factor for severe H1N1 infection. Pregnant women also seem to be at higher risk of contracting the disease.