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RESPIRATORY INFECTIONS WHILE PREGNANT

sick woman

RESPIRATORY INFECTIONS WHILE PREGNANT

The following information is to be used as a guide to and at the discretion of the end-user and should not replace a doctor’s opinion.

OVERVIEW

It’s winter in South Africa, and as we see the temperatures drop, we see the number of respiratory infections rise. It’s commonly referred to as “flu season” but refers to a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to potentially dangerous viruses like influenza (flu) and Covid-19. In South Africa, flu season usually lasts from May to September.

The burden of flu is particularly high in South Africa, where between 6 000 and 11 000 people die flu-related deaths every year. About half of these deaths are in the elderly, and about 30% are HIV positive.

The highest rates of hospitalisation are in the elderly (65 years and older), HIV positive people, and children younger than five. Pregnant women are also at increased risk of hospitalisation and death from flu infections.

People with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, lung disease, tuberculosis, and heart disease are also at increased risk of being hospitalised from the flu. During the flu season in South Africa, about 8–10% of patients are hospitalised for pneumonia and 25% of patients with flu-like illness (fever and cough) will test positive for influenza.

PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM RESPIRATORY INFECTIONS

You can take steps to prevent common respiratory infections. And if you get sick, you can take care of yourself to keep the infection from getting worse. Without proper care, a respiratory infection can get worse. It can lead to serious complications and even death. If you aren’t getting better or if your symptoms are getting worse, consult your healthcare provider.

Respiratory viruses are spread through droplets. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets containing the viruses are released into the air. The viruses also get onto your hands or the tissue when you blow your nose. When people then come into direct contact with each other, for instance by shaking hands or hugging, the virus is more likely to spread. 

These viruses can also be passed to objects. They are easily spread from person to person wherever a lot of people touch the same objects, like door handles or handrails on escalators or public transport.  Take the following precautions to protect yourself and your family:

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SUPPORTING YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM DURING PREGNANCY

  1. Eat a balanced diet

Eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet to provide your body with the essential vitamins and minerals you need to stay fit and well throughout your pregnancy:

    • Eat a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats
    • Limit highly processed foods
    • Don’t restrict any particular food group from your meal plans, so include carbs, dairy (if you’re not lactose-intolerant), and healthy fats

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RESPIRATORY INFECTIONS COMMON IN SOUTH AFRICA AT THE MOMENT

The South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) keeps a close eye in respiratory pathogens and issues a weekly surveillance report on the more dangerous viruses detected in the population. According to the NICD, at the moment we are experiencing an increase in influenza (flu), Covid-19 and RSV infections.

INFLUENZA 

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and can be fatal. The best way to prevent flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

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COVID-19

Covid-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. It is most commonly spread through the air in tiny droplets of fluid between people in close contact. Many people with Covid-19 have no symptoms or mild illness. But for older adults and people with certain medical conditions, Covid-19 can be severe and lead to hospitalisation or death. The best way to prevent serious illness is staying up to date with the Covid vaccine.

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RSV

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. It’s so common that most children have been infected with the virus by age 2.

In adults and older, healthy children, RSV symptoms are mild and typically mimic the common cold. Self-care measures are usually all that’s needed to relieve any discomfort.

RSV can cause severe infection in some people, including babies 12 months and younger (infants), especially premature infants, older adults, people with heart and lung disease, or anyone with a weak immune system.

The best way to prevent RSV infection is hand washing and paying attention to hygiene. The RSV vaccine is not routinely provided in South Africa. It is very expensive and is used only for high-risk cases of chronic lung disease and premature babies. 

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FURTHER READING