W.H.O. urges South Africa to manage COVID-19 as flu season approaches

Checking temperatures in a Durban township in South Africa.PHOTO/AP
FILE PHOTO: A health worker checks a man’s temperature during a door-to-door testing in an attempt to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Umlazi township near Durban, South Africa, April 4, 2020. REUTERS/Rogan Ward/File Photo

The World Health Organisation warned against a possible derailment of efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa as the influenza season in the Southern Hemisphere approaches.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the Executive Director of the W.H.O.’s Health Emergencies Programme, said that South Africa and other nations in the world’s Southern Hemisphere will need the institution’s support to manage both diseases when the time comes.

“Also because South Africa will enter into the influenza season fairly soon with countries like Argentina, like Chile, like Australia, it is really important we support countries in the Southern Hemisphere who do experience yearly influenza cycles to ensure they have the capacity to both manage and monitor both influenza and COVID-19 at the same time,” Dr Ryan said during a press briefing on Monday.

One dilemma of the onset of the influenza season is that some coronavirus cases may slip by as the flu and coronavirus have some similar symptoms.

Dr. Ryan added that lessons that will be learnt by South Africa and other Southern Hemisphere nations with potentially both diseases circulating at the same time will benefit them and other nations in the Northern Hemisphere when their influenza season begins.

“So, we have a huge benefit to gain from investing the capacities, the scientific epidemiologic and other capacities in South Africa which have been demonstrated already to be very strong.”

According to South Africa’s Ministry of Health, influenza kills between 6000-11,000 South Africans annually with nearly half of those deaths being the elderly and about 30 per cent in HIV-infected people. Like the coronavirus, the elderly and persons with chronic conditions have been identified as populations at high risk of death from influenza.

The average influenza season in South Africa starts during the first week of June. However, it could start as early as April or as late as July and typically lasts about 12 weeks.

Seasonal influenza is characterized by a sudden onset of fever, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint pain, severe malaise, sore throat and a runny nose, according to the W.H.O.