Here are simple things we can do to prepare:
1. Basic hygiene and social distancing
Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is caused by the influenza virus. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is caused by the coronavirus (specifically ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2’). 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 (since they are both viruses).
Adopting these basic behaviours as part of your daily routine will help protect you and your family against both the corona and flu viruses:
• Wash hands frequently
• Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
• Practice respiratory hygiene
• If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care
The Department of Health is also recommending that South Africans maintain social distancing to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. For guidelines on this, visit https://sacoronavirus.co.za for more details.
2. Getting a flu vaccine
Winter generally marks the onset of the flu season. The annual flu vaccination period which starts at the end of March, has commenced. Please contact your pharmacy to confirm that they have the flu vaccine in stock.
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 assist with maintaining a stronger immune system that may help against fighting the coronavirus should you become infected.
Based on guidelines from the Department of Health, Fedhealth strongly recommends that the following vulnerable groups get vaccinated this year:
- healthcare workers
- people over the age of 65
- people with cardiovascular disease (including chronic heart disease, hypertension, stroke and diabetes) and chronic lung disease (including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- pregnant women and people with HIV and AIDS.
In line with the most recent flu surveillance information provided by the WHO (World Health Organisation), the following vaccines can be claimed from your Fedhealth screening benefit for the 2020 flu season:
• Influvac® 0.5ml (NAPPI code: 732826)
• Vaxigrip® Single Dose 0.5ml pre-filled (NAPPI code: 813338)
• Vaxigrip® Single Dose 0.25ml pre-filled paediatric (NAPPI code: 836591)
Important note: Vaxigrip® Tetra (NAPPI code: 3000826 Vaxigrip® Tetra Single Dose 0.5ml) is NOT covered by Fedhealth for the 2020 flu season.
Please note that the vaccine is NOT recommended for individuals 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, discuss with your healthcare provider
• Maybe suffering from flu symptoms already
• Infants under six months, as the vaccines are not licensed for use in such young children
3. Over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu medication
There are currently no specific medicines available to treat COVID-19. Mild disease is usually best treated with OTC remedies that help with symptom management. Pain and fever is best managed with simple analgesics containing paracetamol.
OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and diclofenac may also be recommended for pain and fever associated with inflammation. There is a lot of false information circulating on social media on whether NSAIDs worsen COVID 19. There’s currently no scientific evidence to confirm this, and no recommendations from the WHO or local regulatory authorities advising against the use of this group of medicines. If you do use these medicines or if they’re prescribed by your doctor, it’s recommended that they are used at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time. If you are prescribed these medications for a chronic condition, always consult your treating provider before stopping medication.
4. Pneumonia vaccination
Similar to the flu vaccine, the pneumonia vaccine is not effective against COVID-19. The pneumonia vaccine is recommended for certain individuals who have a high risk of developing respiratory illnesses. The WHO advises that the available supply of pneumonia vaccines should be conserved for people who are at greatest risk of developing respiratory illness. The Scheme funds pneumonia vaccines for all beneficiaries over the age of 65 from the screening benefit (once per lifetime) on all options except myFED.
5. Medicine supply concerns
Governments, regulators and businesses around the world are being forced to make very difficult decisions to look after the health needs of the population. Concerns with supply chains of essentials such as medicines have been noted, and all stakeholders are actively working to manage these risks. As a Scheme, we’ve ensured that there is active engagement with the pharmaceutical industry and have mechanisms in place to manage any stock concerns that may arise relating to your chronic medication.
Should we receive notification of supply problems with recommended formulary medicines, we will advise on suitable formulary alternatives that Fedhealth will cover to ensure the continuity of your care. We strongly discourage the stockpiling of medicines, as this tends to create unnecessary problems.
If you are on chronic medication to manage a medical condition, please continue taking your medicines regularly as advised by your healthcare practitioner. This will help to keep you healthy and avoid any unnecessary visits to your doctor or hospital, which in turn will reduce the burden on doctors’ time and hospital beds as our health system tries to cope with this pandemic.
Following the announcement of COVID-19 as a national State of Disaster and the subsequent lockdown taking effect in South Africa from midnight on 26 March 2020, it’s vital to understand that we ALL have a role to play in supporting each other during this time.