We’re all incredibly focused on the Coronavirus right now, but that doesn’t mean we should neglect other aspects of our health and wellness, especially as South Africans head into winter.
In fact, the more we can keep away from GPs’ rooms and hospitals, the better for us all. This not only reduces our exposure to the virus, but also frees up resources and doctors so that they can support those suffering from COVID-19. As we know, one of the most prevalent illnesses over winter is the flu. Here are some simple things we can do to prepare and prevent it, bearing in mind the challenging conditions we currently find ourselves in:
- Basic hygiene and social distancing
We’ve all become more vigilant about this over the past few months, and this has in fact been good training for battling influenza, more commonly known as the flu. The influenza virus is also caused by a virus, like the coronavirus disease is. Although the virus that causes COVID-19 is uniquely different to the virus that causes the flu, some of the basic measures to avoid the spread of the virus help in both cases:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap, for 20 seconds or longer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Practice respiratory hygiene, i.e don’t cough near or on people, cough into a tissue and then throw it away
- If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care (it’s advised to call the clinic or GP surgery beforehand)
The Department of Health is also recommending that South Africans maintain social distancing to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, as laid out in the various phases of managing this pandemic. For guidelines on this, visit https://sacoronavirus.co.za.
Winter generally marks the onset of the flu season. The annual flu vaccination period started at the end of March and is still continuing.
While the flu vaccine is not active against the coronavirus and will not protect you from becoming infected, it will offer protection against the influenza virus. Although the flu vaccine will not eliminate your risk from developing the flu, it will help to reduce your risk. Reducing your risk will help you maintain a stronger immune system, and this may help against fighting the coronavirus, should you or a family member become infected.
Your medical aid may offer certain flu vaccines as part of your cover, in line with the most recent flu surveillance information provided by the WHO (World Health Organisation). For example, Fedhealth is offering flu vaccines from our screening benefit including Influvac® and Vaxigrip®. We highly recommend that you and members of your family get vaccinated to reduce your risk of developing the flu this season.
Bear in mind that these vaccines are not recommended for people who:
- Are allergic to eggs or egg proteins, as the manufacturing process for the vaccine involves the use of chicken eggs
- May have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past (if you’re unsure, rather discuss this with your healthcare provider)
- May be suffering from flu symptoms already
- Infants under six months, as the vaccines are not licensed for use in such young children
- Over-the-counter cold and flu medication
There are currently no specific medicines available to treat COVID-19. Mild cases of the disease are best treated with over-the-counter remedies that help manage your symptoms. Pain and fever can be managed with simple analgesics containing paracetamol.
Over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and diclofenac may also be recommended for pain and fever associated with inflammation. Social media reports that raise questions about whether NSAIDs may worsen COVID-19 are unfounded and there is currently no scientific evidence to confirm this, nor any recommendations from the WHO to advise against the use of this group of medicines.
If you do use these medicines, it’s recommended that they’re used at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.
Similar to the flu vaccine, the pneumonia vaccine is not effective against COVID-19. The pneumonia vaccine is recommended for certain people who have a high risk of developing respiratory illnesses. Some medical aids like Fedhealth fund pneumonia vaccines for all members over the age of 65 from their screening benefit.
It’s so important at this difficult time in the world’s history to work together and do everything in our power to keep healthy and support those who are not. Getting the flu vaccine is one way of taking care of your and your family’s health, so you can stay well and stay home – and let the medical industry do its best for those who really need it right now.