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Survey: SA threw colds and flu for a loop this season

Aug 14, 2018
Survey: SA threw colds and flu for a loop this season

South Africans seem to have outsmarted colds and flu viruses this winter season with just over a third suffering only once from coughs and sniffles according to a national survey conducted by one of the country’s leading colds and flu medicine providers.

Pharma Dynamics polled 1 837 South Africans, aged 18+ on how they dealt with colds and flu this winter, which yielded some interesting results.

While a lucky 9% of respondents entirely escaped the grip of a cold, 38% only suffered once, 32% got it twice, 13% had it thrice and an ill-fated 8% had to fight it off four or more times this season.

Annemarie Blackmore, Antimicrobial Product Manager at Pharma Dynamics points out that those who struggled to shrug off a cold could possibly have an underlying chronic illness, which compromises the immune system and puts them at greater risk of infection.

She says SA has had a relatively mild colds and flu season compared to elsewhere in the world where the dreaded, Aussie flu, also known as H3N2, wreaked havoc in Britain and the US during this past northern hemisphere winter.

“According to SA’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), most flu samples that tested positive this season have been identified as influenza A (H1N1), more commonly known as Swine flu. The H3N2 strain typically has a higher mortality rate than the milder H1N1, particularly among the young, elderly and those who have compromised immune systems. The H3N2 strain was more predominant in SA last year but has only been detected in small numbers this time around.

“Even though the colds and flu season reared its head earlier this year, during the first week of May – almost four weeks earlier than last year – the total number of reported flu cases are lower compared to the same time last year.”

She says while circulating flu strains were less virulent this season, that the over 200 viruses responsible for the common cold can cause an equal amount of discomfort, which according to Pharma Dynamics’ survey, South Africans tried to avoid at all costs.

“Sixty percent of survey respondents took great care in avoiding personal contact with a sick person – 9% even went as far as quarantining a sick family member, friend or colleague. Forty-two percent were militant about hand-washing, 41% covered their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and 14% regularly disinfected surfaces,” notes Blackmore.

Improving their immunity was also a priority this winter with 45% relying on immune-boosting supplements and 36% on vitamins, while 27% increased their intake of fresh fruit and vegetables.

At first sign of a cold or flu, the majority of respondents (46%) sought the advice of a pharmacist, while only a quarter called on their GP. Nineteen percent relied on past experience and 10% consulted the internet for guidance.

Of those who fell ill, 91% relied on one or more over-the-counter (OTC) treatments to help manage symptoms, while a hardy 9% waited it out.

“What is interesting to note,” says Blackmore, “is that many of the respondents polled (41%) made generics their go-to medicine choice this winter. Generics are exactly the same as brand name medicines, but are up to 80% cheaper, which over the course of a year can amount to huge savings.”

Those who succumbed to one of the many colds and flu viruses in circulation this season, cited sleeping (76%), taking a hot bath or shower (43%), drinking a cup of herbal tea, such as Rooibos (37%), watching their favourite TV series or movie (25%) and getting some fresh air (19%), among their top five feel-better strategies.

For the final stretch of the colds and flu season, Blackmore recommends a few more arsenal tactics to reduce one’s risk of infection:

“Keep up proper hygiene practices, which includes not sharing the same cutlery, crockery, water bottles, lip balm, towels etc. Be sure to also wipe down surfaces such as keyboards, tablets and phones to cut back on germs that could get near your face and mouth.

“Another factor that can turn you into a germ-magnet, is unmanaged stress. Studies show that chronic stress can diminish immune function, including natural killer cell (a type of white blood cell) activity, which helps to fight viral infections. So, try meditation, yoga, running and/or breathing techniques to keep colds and flu at bay during the last lap of the season,” she advises.