Swine flu remains a grave health threat around the world ahead of the 2010 World Cup and South Africans should not become complacent about this potentially dangerous illness.
This is according to Dr Pete Vincent of the Netcare Travel Clinics who says that the dangers of swine flu or the H1N1 virus, which has claimed the lives of more than 14 700 people around the world, are “real and should not be underestimated”. He points out that while the pandemic is now past its prime autumn and winter peak in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it is still in evidence in a many countries, and we should be ready for it this winter when the World Cup takes place.
“The H1N1 virus could well make a big return to South Africa during our next flu season,” continued Dr Vincent. “We will have a lot of people visiting the country over the period of the World Cup. Therefore, the conditions for a rapid spread of the virus will be good.”
Dr Vincent points out that the best protection available against the H1N1 virus and other flu viruses is vaccination and this year’s flu vaccine will provide protection against the H1N1 virus. He suggests that individuals who are travelling, or are at high risk of developing flu-related complications, or who simply want to protect themselves from the H1N1 virus should seriously consider having the 2010 flu vaccination. Those most at risk of developing complications include the elderly, the very young, individuals with asthma and other chest problems, and individuals whose systems have been immuno-compromised (i.e. by HIV virus).
Dr Vincent says that a study has shown that one of the most dangerous complications to arise from an H1N1 infection is secondary infection from bacterial pneumonia. Therefore he advises those at risk of developing flu related complications to also seriously consider having the pneumococcal vaccination.
Dr Vincent says he welcomes the Department of Health’s plan for an extensive H1N1 vaccination drive during which it hopes to vaccinate around a million people in March 2010 prior to the World Cup. He says that the more people are vaccinated against the illness, the greater the protection afforded to the community and visitors to our country. Clinics and pharmacies will also stock the vaccine.
Dr Vincent suggests that those who intend travelling now or later in the year should also consider having the vaccination. He says that one does not want to get sick when travelling and especially in places where you may not be able to get adequate medical support. Some countries such as China may also isolate and quarantine you if they suspect you could possibly be sick with H1N1 or exposures to someone they suspect has the H1N1 virus!
The World Health Organisation (WHO), which actively monitors the progress of the H1N1 pandemic, says that in much of the temperate northern hemisphere, pandemic influenza activity reached a peak in late October and November 2009 and has now tailed off. However, in areas that were hit later by the pandemic, virus transmission is still relatively common. Such areas include North Africa, parts of eastern and south-eastern Europe and East and South Asia.
Dr Vincent suggests that would-be travellers check to see how the virus is impacting the region they are travelling to. WHO’s website provides such a service on the section devoted to H1N1 updates: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/.