Flu cases are on the rise in SA: What you should know

a sick man lying on couch
It's never too late to get the flu vaccine.

If you’re in South Africa you’ve probably noticed that a lot of people around you seem to be coming down with the flu. The yearly flu season, which usually coincides with winter, is expected to start in the next few weeks. 

Is the flu going around this year worse than ‘normal’? How worried should you be about getting sick? What’s the best way to protect yourself? Dr Jocelyn Moyes from the Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases answers some of your questions.

Did the flu season start earlier than normal this year? 

On average the influenza season starts anywhere between mid-April or at the end of May, then peaking in mid-June or early July, and ending in August. In some years the virus circulates through to October. 

We are starting to see influenza cases but the detection rate of influenza, across our surveillance programmes, has not yet crossed the threshold of transmission for the season.

Furthermore it is not possible to predict the start, peak or end of the influenza seasons.

How severe is the flu strain circulating this year?

The influenza surveillance programmes have identified influenza viruses A (HeN2) and influenza C (H1N1) pdm09. These are not seasonal influenza viruses. 

So we do not expect cases to be more severe this year and It is not possible to predict how many cases there will be this year. 

Who is most affected?

People of all ages can get influenza. There are risk groups of people who may get more severe illness and often require hospitalisation. This group of people includes pregnant women, and women up to 6 weeks postpartum (women who have given birth in the last six to eight weeks), people living with HIV and Tuberculosis, people of any age with chronic diseases and children under two years.

When is the right time for people to get vaccinated?

It is never too late to vaccinate against influenza, however the best time to get the vaccine is before the flu season starts in June.

Who should consider vaccination?

People who have a risk of severe illness, healthcare workers in hospitals, clinics and old age homes. Elderly people from 65 years, people living with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and chronic lung diseases and children. 

Where can people get the vaccine?

The National Department of Health makes influenza vaccines available in clinics for free for the elderly, pregnant women, and people living with chronic illnesses.  

Also, some medical aids do cover the influenza vaccine. And for individuals who do not have medical aid, they can purchase an influenza vaccine from their doctor or pharmacies.

Are there other respiratory viruses circulating that we should get vaccinated against?

There is  SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) which is currently circulating at low levels as well as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which is currently at peak circulation in the country. While most diseases caused by influenza, RSV and SARS-CoV2 viruses are mild, they may cause severe illness and even death among individuals with underlying medical conditions.  – Health-e News


  • Palesa Matlala

    Palesa Matlala, is a photojournalist and documentary photographer. Prior to joining Health-e, she wrote for ThisAbility Newspaper focusing on disability activism. She formed part of a research team for the SABC 2 disability magazine Activated. She was also an intern at Bhekisisa Centre of Health journalism. Her interests are telling community health stories, focusing on mental health, women's health and early childhood development.

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