Colds, Flu and COVID


Listen to your body, and take a rest! This years colds and flus have been doing their rounds , with a vengeance! Do you know the difference? And can you shake it off with over-the-counter medication or do you need to vaccinate or visit your GP? Lets understand the flu.

What are the Different strains of flu going around?

The term “flu” has become a general term for respiratory symptoms, accompanied sometime by fevers and body aches. In actual fact, flu is short for Influenza virus. Influenza, much like COVID, started in pandemic proportions in 1918. Our immunity to flu  has improved and it is no longer a pandemic/epidemic but rather a seasonal virus.

Influenzas A (also known as Swine flu) and Influenza B are the 2 strains we commonly encounter in Winter. Indeed, this year we have had very high levels of Influenza A with many patients experiencing respiratory symptoms accompanied by high fevers, body aches and fatigue. Some have ended up in hospital with pneumonia.

Who needs the flu Vaccine?

It is recommended that everyone over 6 months of age should receive a yearly flu vaccine. This is especially important for those at risk for contracting severe influenza. These groups include  the

  • immunocompromised,
  • elderly,
  • institutionalized,
  • young children,
  • pregnant women.

Thousands of people are hospitalized for influenza every year, and many succumb to the disease.

The flu vaccine decreases your chance of contracting influenza and decreases the severity of influenza if you contract it despite the vaccine.

The main side effect of the flu vaccine is a fluey feeling, sometimes accompanied by fever for up to 24 hours after the vaccine. This is an immune reaction, is usually easily controlled by anti-inflammatorys, and it doesn’t mean you got “flu” from the flu vaccine.

What should you do if you contract influenza?

Much like with COVID, you should stay home for at least 7 days from onset of symptoms. There is an antiviral medication available called Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) which can be prescribed by your doctor. It helps decrease the duration and severity of flu but only if taken within 72 hours of symptom onset. It is mostly used for high risk patients. The rest of the management is like for COVID:

  • rest,
  • plenty of fluids,
  • over the counter meds to help with pain and inflammation and
  • monitor the breathing as Influenza can cause pneumonia.

What about other Viruses?

In addition to the influenza, we are seeing this season, there are a multitude of other viruses doing the rounds. These include:

  • Rhinovirus (the common cold)
  • Enterovirus (the common cold and often with some diarrhea),
  • RSV (the common cold plus a tight chest, laryngitis),
  • Adenovirus (the common cold and diarrhea) and many others.

It’s important to realize that the flu vaccine will not protect you from these viruses. They are annoying but can be serious especially in young children and the elderly. They cause a lot of work absenteeism.

The courteous thing to do is to stay home and not infect your associates. Unfortunately, many of my patients feel they can’t afford the time off work and they carry on regardless. This often means the whole office comes down with the virus and not having enough rest also puts one at risk for complications like bronchitis.

What About COVID?

COVID is still circulating at relatively low levels in the community. At the moment we are being protected by our herd immunity – high antibody and cellular immunity levels due to vaccine coverage and previous infections. There is some concern that not many COVID booster vaccines are being administered.

My advice is a yearly COVID vaccine for all and a 6 monthly COVID vaccine for high-risk groups. Much like with influenza, we want to keep our heard immunity high to prevent outbreaks. Unfortunately, it’s quite hard to access COVID vaccines. Please talk to your Health Care provider about where to find one or try

We are no longer doing COVID tests on every patient with respiratory symptoms and it’s likely that we are missing many mild to moderate COVID infections. I tend to test patients who have severe symptoms or are a high risk for severe COVID. The isolation guidelines for COVID remain 7 days from onset of symptoms although one can appreciate that most times this is not happening.


How can we decrease Cold, Flu and COVID in the community?

The simple measures of hand washing/sanitizing and mask wearing are still helpful. My recommendation is that every person with flu-like symptoms should ideally stay home and if they really must go out, they should sanitize hands regularly and wear a mask. Children should not attend school when sick unless there are exceptional circumstances, like an exam they can’t miss, in which case they should wear a mask, just go in for the test and have minimal contact with other learners.

After COVID many of us were so sick and tired of health regulations, we went to the other extreme of soldiering through illness. The results can be devastating for the patient who develops complications and the community which experiences mini-outbreaks of viruses.

With sensible precautions, the spread and consequences of cold, flu and COVID can be curtailed.

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Dr Karin Van Der Merwe

Dr Karin Van Der Merwe

Dr Karin van der Merwe has recently opened her own GP practice in Craighall Park .She is passionate about child and maternal health and comfortable treating babies from birth with over 10 years of working in paediatric wards and clinics. Dr van der Merwe also has a heart for supporting mothers and runs a WhatsApp (0 63 227 9891) support group for moms of babies and small children.

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