Five Winter Medical Myths – Dr Stefan Bezuidenhout

Dr Stefan Bezuidenhout from Virtus Health & Medical Centre is here to debunk a few worldwide medical myths this winter.


1. “The Flu vaccine gives you, the flu”

This is one of the most common myths. The flu vaccine contains inactivated flu viruses and cannot give you flu. What you might experience is the immune response to the vaccination which would only include slight fevers and a localised red tender shoulder for 2-3 days.


As it takes about 2 weeks for antibodies to develop, you can be infected with full blown flu in this period, purely by coincidence. The vaccine also only contains a few of the severe strains and you can therefore still be infected with some of the other viral strains.


2. “Anti-biotics works for all infections”

Antibiotics are designed to kill bacterial infections, as the flu is a viral infection it will not make you feel better sooner or kill the virus. In most cases, your immune system will clear the virus from your body within 2-3 days. If you started an antibiotic and feel better in 2-3 days it is due to your immune systems great work, not the antibiotic.


3. “Being outside in the cold, will make you sick”

A virus spreads by micro droplets of bodily fluid and you, therefore, have more chance to get infected, huddled together inside than out in the cold. During the winter though the cold air can be drier and this can cause airway irritation that leaves you more susceptible to viral infections.


4. “ Allergies are only for spring time”

During winter months, doors and windows are closed. Circulating air cons and poor air quality can lead to allergies flaring. It can also aggravate mould growth which can make some allergies worse.


5. “ Sunscreen is not necessary during Winter months”

Due to the earth’s axis and rotation, we are actually closer to the sun during winter months. You still need to apply sunscreen to prevent damage to your skin and reduce long term cancer risk.


Contact Details:

Virtus Health & Medical

Tel: +27 21 439 1555
Address: 3rd Floor, The Point, Sea Point

Seasonal Allergies – Dr Jane Benjamin

With spring approaching it is the perfect time of year to take long walks on the mountain, do a bit of gardening, take kiddies to the park and get in touch with nature.


But spring bliss can also lead to allergy symptoms for 20 % of all South Africans. These symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing, watering and itchy eyes, wheezing, coughing and itchy skin. These symptoms may mean you have allergic rhinitis (running nose), allergic conjunctivitis, asthma or eczema.

If you have these symptoms there are numerous things you can do to minimize your symptoms.


General measure you can take include the following:

– Wear a protective mask while gardening

– Keep and doors & windows closed, air conditioner filters can trap pollen. Change these often
– Consider holidays near the sea not inland or in areas of high pollen count
– Protect your eyes with sunglasses to reduce the amount of pollen they are exposed to
– Wash hair, body, and clothes at the end of the day as all of these can trap pollen
– Check your pets as they can often bring pollen indoors and transfer it onto couches and bedding


If symptoms still persist after these general measures get proper treatment:

– Oral antihistamine tablets are the mainstay of treatment. You can get non-drowsy, once daily, long acting antihistamines

– There are numerous steroid based nasal sprays that can improve the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Some of these you can get over the counter
– Allergy eye drops are also available if your eye symptoms are very bad
– Decongestants can make you feel better but can elevate your blood pressure – so check with your doctor what the best options are for you
– If allergies cause your asthma symptoms to flare you may need to step-up your treatment regime to manage symptoms


If you are still symptomatic after all of this you may need to have a steroid injection but best to discuss this with your doctor. This is normally only if symptoms are very severe as high dose steroids have numerous unwanted side effects.


Hopefully, these useful tips will help prevent some of your allergy symptoms this spring!


Contact Details:

Virtus Health & Medical

Tel: +27 21 439 1555
Address: 3rd Floor, The Point, Sea Point

Keeping children healthy this winter – Marc Davidowitz

Children can be very susceptible to getting sick, regardless of the season. The combination of their immature immune systems at times, increasing trend of inappropriate diets and the interaction with many viruses/bacteria at creches/schools all play a part.


The increasing trend of sedentary lifestyles in children with less playing outside and more indoors on electronic devices leads to decreased physical activity as well as decreased interaction with the necessary bacteria to develop an immunity. This combination also leads to a greater incidence of infections in children.


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There are however many ways for us to keep kids healthier and reduce the number of infections. You can, of course, address the issues mentioned above. In addition to this, the implementation of a proper diet with all food groups especially fruit and vegetables to ensure the necessary vitamins are ingested.


Playing outside not only improves their health but also exposes children to Vitamin D from sunlight which is important. Ensuring children get enough sleep is another element that is often overlooked. And most importantly, for the prevention of serious infections, is the need to stay up to date with vaccine schedule.


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Vaccines are arguably one of the greatest inventions in modern medicine. A lot of debate has arisen in the past due to common misconceptions about them. The subsequent decrease in the use of certain vaccines (e.g. the Measles vaccine) led to massive outbreaks in the incidence and morbidity and mortality from Measles in the country a few years ago.


The purpose of vaccinating your children is not only to protect them from often serious infections but also to provide “herd immunity.” Herd immunity is when the community is immunized against a contagious disease as a result of everyone being immunized. This leads to most members of the community are protected which in turn leads to little opportunity for an outbreak.


As a result, those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals, are protected due to the containment of the disease. This applies to a variety of contagious diseases, including influenza, measles, mumps, rotavirus, and pneumococcal disease.

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The flu vaccine for an example. It is annually updated and protects against recent viruses. It is recommended for children with chronic lung, heart, renal disease, Diabetes, HIV. Ideally, should be given in March before the season due to antibodies taking 2 weeks to build-up in systems. In most 1st world countries everyone is vaccinated. Some of the benefits of the flu vaccine are that it can protect against flu, decrease the severity the illness if you get it, prevent serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections.

The reported side-effects of the flu vaccine are minor and self-limited. They include fever, irritability, and pain at the site of the injection which responds well to OTC medication. A common misconception is that the flu vaccine can give you flu, which it cannot. Severe allergic reactions are also rare.


Many parents also avoid vaccines at times of minor illnesses, which is also unnecessary. The only real contraindications to vaccines, in general, are proven egg allergy, in which case the child can still be given vaccines including MMR. Only in children with a history of anaphylaxis to egg/flu vaccine, should they be avoided. And then in children with immunosuppression. They should not receive live vaccines (BCG, measles, MMR, OPV). In these cases, they should be delayed until 3 months if they are receiving therapy. Check your vaccine schedule in your child’s Road To Health Card to make sure they are up to date with all their vaccines.




Other ways to boost your child’s immune system is ensuring they receive certain vitamins and minerals such as Zinc, Vitamin C, Probiotics when they have bouts of diarrhea, as well as certain other immune boosters e.g. Echinacea.

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There is strong evidence that the use of Zinc and Vitamin C reduces the incidence of common colds by up to 50%, increases, iron absorption, aids in wound healing, reduces diarrhea and is vital in children with malnutrition.


Contact Details:

Virtus Health & Medical

Tel: +27 21 439 1555
Address: 3rd Floor, The Point, Sea Point