City of Cape Town health director Dr Ivan Toms said the cold and winter illnesses led to a greater number of people visiting community health centres, clinics and hospitals.
The spread of tuberculosis in winter was “of particular concern” as the TB bacteria survived longer in damp conditions.
The elderly and HIV-positive were at risk from influenza, which could lead to pneumonia and be fatal. Children were also at risk of contracting gastroenteritis and skin infections from playing in pools of dirty water.
Treatment Action Campaign spokesperson Denis Matwa said a large percentage of HIV-positive people were at risk of developing pneumonia as they did not have proper shelter.
The shortage of staff at community clinics compounded the hazards of cold weather for people living with HIV, he said.
Tuberculosis Care Association programme manager Etricia Lakey said poor living conditions could increase the chances of TB spreading as cold weather kept people huddled together indoors.
As they had weakened immune systems, babies and the elderly who had TB were at risk of aggravating their conditions, she said.
Dr Beverly Draper, from the UCT Children’s Institute, said cold weather placed children under five years of age at greater risk of contracting respiratory infections.
Children would contract flu, which in many cases would turn into bronchitis.
“The load of patients needing treatment in winter is always higher and it is the busiest time for doctors,” Draper said.
Toms said there was no available statistical analysis of deaths according to the seasons.
He said city disaster management had an effective and rapid response to flooding, with people whose homes were flooded being accommodated in community halls and being given meals. They were also given starter packs for rebuilding homes if necessary.
A possible intervention being considered for next winter was to offer flu vaccinations to the elderly, to clinic staff and to those whose immune systems were compromised. - Cape Argus