South Africans should take out those brollies, boots and coats because some cold weather is setting in.
The Western Cape has been hit by two cold fronts and is expected to experience a snowy weekend. The South African Weather Service (SAWS) has also warned of cold conditions across the Northern Cape.
The SAWS told Health24 in April that while we can expect a cold winter, there is no indication at this stage that it will be the coldest winter yet.
"The indications according to the seasonal forecast are that we can expect a colder than normal winter, although this does not necessarily mean that this will be the coldest winter on record," said scientist Cobus Olivier from the SA Weather Service.
He cautioned, though, that forecasts for winter are normally less certain than for other seasons.
“Generally seasonal forecasting models struggle to capture relatively fast evolving systems and South Africa’s winter weather systems generally fall in this category, hence the marked drop in skillful forecasts,” said Olivier.
Stay warm this winter
The SAWS advised that keeping warm and staying indoors are the best ways to prevent diseases associated with winter and severe cold.
"This means putting on warm enough clothes and covering your nose and mouth to protect your lungs from the cold air."
The SAWS also warned that when indoors, caution should be taken with open fires, heaters, and paraffin stoves. "They can easily cause fires and also create poor indoor air quality. This can make a person even more sick than just the cold."
They also pointed out that pets need to be protected when severe cold occurs. "They should be kept indoors under severe circumstances."
Freezing weather also sees an increase in cases of flu, bacterial infections and asthma flare-ups.
Dr Owen Wiese, Health24's resident doctor, said the exact reasons why people tend to get more sick from illnesses like flu during winter are not entirely clear. "Some contributing factors may be that people are more 'crowded' in cold weather."
He explained that flu spreads via droplets and that being in close contact with someone who has a flu virus makes it more likely that other people might become infected too.
Using air conditioning to warm the environment also results in the air circulating more often, which makes it very favourable for viruses and bugs to spread, he said. "Keeping the aircon on a high temperature might soon have the whole office coming down with flu."
Getting the flu vaccination will help to ward off illness this winter, said Dr Wiese. He said practicing good hygiene will also count. "Wash your hands, make use of hand sanitizers, clean surfaces properly, including telephone earpieces and door handles."
Other common health conditions people usually suffer from during winter include bacterial infections, especially among the elderly and children, dry and cracked skin, as well as asthma flare-ups, he noted.
Dr Wiese also shared some advice for those who do fall ill. "If you are sick, cover your nose when sneezing or your mouth when coughing. Dispose of used tissues and remember that you are infective, so avoid too much personal contact."