Flu in September?

As the sweet smells of jasmine and other blossoms fill the air, it's easy to believe that spring is here, and that the misery of winter ailments is now a thing of the past. So why are so many people battling with flu symptoms right now when the change of season is so evident?

According to Professor Robin Green, Head of Paediatric Pulmonology at Steve Biko Academic Hospital and one of the authors of the South African flu guidelines, this is far from unusual, as flu officially occurs in epidemics in the southern hemisphere from April to September each year.

Vaccine shortage

Suffering from fever, chills, headaches, body aches and cough is pretty awful at any time, but feels even worse when the sun is shining brightly and everyone around you is happily shrugging off their winter layers. Perhaps you've developed the dreaded lurgy because you’re one of the thousands of South Africans who were denied having the flu jab this year due to the chronic shortage of the vaccine. Or maybe you're one of the unlucky statistics who have picked up the virus because so many at-risk people (infants and children especially those under 2; anyone over 65; pregnant women and people of any age with certain chronic conditions including asthma or lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, some neurological conditions and people with severely compromised immune systems) were unable to get their usual protection so succumbed in greater numbers this season.

And, of course, the influx of visitors for the Soccer World Cup added to the impetus of spreading the virus, as tens of thousands of people sat close together in stadiums, gathered in restaurants and bars to celebrate or commiserate afterwards, and then went home, or to work, or to play, unknowingly infecting others (the virus is harboured for seven to 10 days in your body before symptoms appear).

Regardless of reason, if you do have any symptoms you need to seek help, because flu’s complications include bronchitis and pneumonia, so should not be ignored. If you fall into the "at risk" group, remember that flu can be potentially deadly. According to the official figures from SA Stats: Mortality and Cause of Death in SA, flu complications are the second leading underlying cause of natural death in our country. Which is why it's so important to prevent complications  and to treat symptoms the minute they occur.

Always seek professional advice, even when it comes to OTC remedies. Follow professional advice when buying a whole range of different products that treat different symptoms such as cough mixtures and painkillers and antihistamines. Many contain similar ingredients and ingredients that may potentially, when taken together, interact with each other – or be taken in doses that are considered an overdose. Even more seriously, OTC medications may interact with your chronic medication.

Alternative options

"An option that is often forgotten about is to go the homoeopathic route,” says Dr Jaci Schultz, a registered homeopathic doctor in private practice. Schultz warns to ensure that homeopathic medicine you choose has been approved by a medical safety authority as laws on alternative, natural or complementary medicines are very lax, thereby allowing both manufacturer and charlatans alike to make unsubstantiated claims. 

- (Health24, September 2010)

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