For the first time in 36 years there will be no flu season in South Africa

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  • Sentinel programmes are yet to pick up cases of flu in South Africa, for the first time in nearly four decades.
  • World Health Organisation data shows a significant decline in flu season for the southern hemisphere.
  • Only one case of flu has been detected in Gauteng since the start of the year.

Every year, for the past 36 years, the flu season started around mid-July.

This year, most likely due to Covid-19 prevention measures, no influenza has been detected by three sentinel surveillance programmes, which are designed to monitor influenza outbreaks annually.

According to a short article in the July 2020 monthly communique published by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, after an initial outbreak of two strains of flu in the Western Cape early this year, only one case of flu has been detected in Gauteng in the week ending 14 June.

The author is Professor Cheryl Cohen, the co-head of the Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis, one of the country's foremost epidemiologists.

Study

Cohen co-authored a study in September 2019, which found that, on average, 10 million South Africans were infected with the flu each year.

In an April interview with News24, Cohen warned that the flu season would cause a "sea of respiratory illness" that would make detecting Covid-19 cases much harder.

READ | NICD's top epidemiologist: How the Covid-19 pandemic is evolving and why we should be concerned

"Over the past 36 years, the influenza season has started in week 28 (week ending 12 July). This year, the various hygiene and physical distancing measures being implemented to reduce SARS-Cov-2 virus transmission has likely played a role in interrupting influenza virus interruption," Cohen wrote.

"Global influenza activity has been at lower levels than expected and, to date, none of the southern hemisphere countries have reported any influenza activity."

According to the World Health Organisation, some flu activity has been seen in northern hemisphere countries, but southern hemisphere countries are not experiencing a flu season anything like seen in previous years.

This appears to be largely down to global travel bans implemented to halt the spread of Covid-19.

This is a developing story.

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