One of the strains of influenza A (also called ‘swine flu’) that caused a pandemic in 2009 has been the cause of a number of people in George becoming seriously ill and having to receive treatment at their GP and the local hospitals.
Some of the patients have also been admitted to ICU.
Rumours that seven people in George have died because of swine flu could not be confirmed.
Bianca Carls, Western Cape Health spokesperson, said one patient died of pneumonia at George Hospital but did not want to confirm that it was caused by swine flu.
“We have noticed an increased number of individuals contracting the flu this year, however we have not seen an increase in admittance rates due to the illness and we cannot verify that this is necessarily swine flu.”
She did however, confirm that the department’s laboratory influenza surveillance systems indicate that the swine flu strain is currently predominant, and some private and public hospitals have sent in reports of “some identified swine flu cases”.
According to Kassie Karstens, manager of Mediclinic George, numerous people reporting at their emergency unit have been treated for serious flu symptoms of whom a small number have had to be treated in their ICU.
A patient who had contracted the flu died about two months ago, but according to Karstens it was because of an already compromised immune system resulting from existing medical conditions in the patient.
Dr Delene Brink, biological microbiologist at PathCare, said there are always several flu strains circulating at the same time.
“We have 62 laboratory proven influenza cases so far, of which 57 are influenza A, which presents with the most severe symptoms. In the whole of last year, a total of only six cases were tested positively, and we are only in June now. Usually in October there is another flare-up.”
Influenza A can be categorised into sub types and one of the strains currently circulating, influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, also called ‘swine flu’, is the strain that caused the 2009 pandemic.
Brink says it behaves like any seasonal influenza strain and no additional precautions are necessary. The current vaccine includes protection against it.
Mediclinic Emergency Unit Manager Dr Isabel van der Merwe advised that people go for a vaccination.
“Those who do, may feel a little ill for two days, but someone who gets infected without having been vaccinated will probably show severe symptoms and will be confined to five days’ bed rest.
“The virus itself can make you very ill and we advise people to go for vaccination to prevent complications and serious symptoms. As soon as you overexert yourself, you are not doing your body a favour, so I would advise people to stay in bed.
“Other medical conditions already present in a patient will raise their chances of secondary infections that impair breathing and can lead to respiratory failure,” said Van der Merwe. She said patients respond very well to antiviral treatments like Tamiflu, which is preferred to treatment with antibiotics.
Karstens confirmed that the Mediclinic personnel, including the administrative team, have all been vaccinated and a hand washing campaign was launched.
Carls said the vaccine has been dispensed to applicable staff members at the George Hospital and the vaccination is voluntary.
“Proper procedures will be exercised should we encounter cases concerning swine flu, where individuals displaying symptoms will be isolated,” she said.
By: Alida de Beer
Source: George Herald