Flu bug: Time to mask up?

Source: Flu bug: Time to mask up? | The Sunday Mail

Flu bug: Time to mask up?

Tendai Chara

FOR Farirai Mupete, what he initially thought was a common cold later developed into a complicated and serious illness.

Apart from the usual runny and stuffy nose, he experienced fevers, a cough, a headache and a sore throat. His condition worsened despite taking known over-the-counter remedies.

“I suddenly began to experience muscle aches, fatigue and shortness of breath. I strongly suspected that I had contracted Covid-19,” said the Harare taxi driver.

However, a visit to a medical doctor confirmed that he had contracted a severe common cold with flu-like symptoms.

In the past weeks or so, the country has been grappling with flu-like illnesses.

Following widespread fears of the resurfacing of Covid-19, the Ministry of Health and Child Care has reassured the public that the illnesses are not related to the coronavirus or other new viruses.

The current cold spell has seemingly worsened the situation, with the number of people visiting medical health institutions, among them Harare City Council clinics, increasing.

The outbreak has prompted many health-conscious residents to revert to preventive measures similar to those seen during Covid-19 lockdowns, including widespread mask-wearing.

“I do not need to be told by anyone to wear a mask; this is my own initiative because I prioritise my health. Since winter began, I often wear a mask when I go to public places. Back home, when one of us catches a cold, they simply mask up,” said Vanessa Mapfumo of Harare.

Nokutenda, a five-year-old attending an early childhood development class in Harare, has been affected by the current cold-related illnesses.

“She (Nokutenda) has contracted colds at least three times since schools opened. I try to make sure that she is warm each time she goes to school. However, there are several other learners at the school whom she plays with. Once one of them gets the flu bug, it quickly spreads, and in some instances they also pass it to us,” said Mai Nokutenda.


Ministry of Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Sleiman Timios Kwidini said the outbreak is under control and urged the public not to panic.

“So far, we have no casualties. Research has shown that this is just an ordinary flu, which is responding to treatments. There is no need for people to panic,” he said.

Deputy Minister Kwidini advised people to seek early treatment when they contract the flu.

“It is wise for those who contract the bug to seek remedies early. The bug can be treated easily when it is still in its early stages.”


Specialist public health physician Dr Agnes Mahomva weighed in, sharing her professional opinion.

“Influenza (flu) is caused by viruses, not bacteria. The flu viruses most frequently spread through the air in droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, resulting in those around the person inhaling the virus. Less frequently, a person might get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose,” she explained.

Dr Mahomva listed a number of preventive measures that can be implemented to contain and minimise the effects of the flu.

“Basically, most of the preventive measures that we took during Covid-19 apply. Among them are good hygiene such as covering one’s mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.”

She advised people to avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Observance of social distance is also vital, she added.

Other measures include use of face masks when in crowds or meetings, and sanitising hands, especially if one had used them to cover one’s mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Those infected are also advised to get enough sleep and stay well-hydrated.

“One must ensure that they are well-hydrated by drinking plenty of liquids. They must also rest; get more sleep to help the immune system fight the viral infection by resting,” said Dr Mahomva.

“Those affected must take painkillers only if they are required to do so. Also, there is no need for any antibiotics, unless a bacterial infection has been diagnosed on top of the viral flu.”

It is a big concern when the virus affects children and the elderly, as the two groups are at a higher risk of developing complications than others, she noted.

Schools on high alert

The outbreak has had a significant impact on schools. According to Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education spokesperson Mr Taungana Ndoro, a considerable number of learners and teachers have fallen ill.

However, he said, schools are on high alert, with some adopting disease containment measures.

“In conjunction with our counterparts at the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has been actively working to address the flu bug outbreak, particularly in Harare schools,” he said.

“Some of the key interventions are distributing flu vaccines to schools, with a focus on high-risk students and staff, and providing schools with essential personal protective equipment such as face masks and hand sanitisers.”

Comprehensive guidelines to school administrators on infection prevention and control protocols have also been introduced.

Rapid response teams have been deployed to schools to conduct contact tracing and facilitate targeted testing and treatment in affected educational institutions.

“We have since launched public awareness campaigns to educate students, teachers and parents on flu prevention measures. We are encouraging schools to enforce strict hygiene practices, including regular handwashing and disinfection of classrooms and common areas,” said Mr Ndoro.

Mr Stanley Gama, the Harare City Council spokesperson, added that the local authority has taken all the necessary steps to contain the virus.

“As you might be aware, the outbreak is coming in waves. We have since set the Wilkins Hospital as a base to treat flu patients. As council, we are fully prepared to deal with this scourge,” said Mr Gama, who could, however, not give the exact number of people that have so far been treated at council medical facilities.