The rains are here early this year. Though it is a relief to be spared from the sweltering heat of summer, but excessive rains too bring with them their own share of problems.
Here are some tips to avoid commonly occurring problems during the rains
Diseases that are spread during rains include the water-borne gastrointestinal infections like typhoid fever, acute diarrhoeal diseases like cholera and non-cholera gastro-enteritis, dysentery, jaundice due to hepatitis A&E; airborne diseases like influenza, mosquito borne disease like dengue fever, malaria and Japanese encephalitis. Other diseases like leptospirosis, conjunctivitis etc, also increase in this season
Contamination of water due to unhygienic conditions is very often the cause of many monsoon ailments. In order to prevent water-borne diseases, do not drink water which is not properly disinfected and stored. Chlorinated water should be used for drinking .Otherwise drinking water should be either boiled for at least five minutes, or chlorine tablets can be used to disinfect water where proper chlorinated water is not available. Drinking water, if stored, should be covered properly to prevent contamination.
Avoid consuming food that is exposed to the surroundings for a long time, as it can be contaminated by germs, which if they enter the body, may cause various infections. Flies are the most common carriers of germs that contaminate exposed food. This is especially true of the cut fruits and cucumber etc, sold by the road side vendor, which should hence be avoided. Raw salads, chutneys and even raita too can get contaminated and lead to food poisoning if not prepared and handled hygienically. Fruits eaten raw should be washed thoroughly in clean running water before consuming. When cooking vegetables remember to wash them thoroughly before cooking and cook well to destroy germs if any. Even cooked food if left in the open for long, will go bad faster in this humid weather, so leftover food should be refrigerated immediately. If eating out, it is safer to eat freshly cooked food and avoid fruit juices, salads, chutneys , pickles etc.
Children are the biggest sufferers of diarrhoea due to contaminated food and water. Apart from the above reasons for food contamination leading to diarrhoea, several times it is difficult to keep a child away from playing in the rain and then eating food with dirty hands. Simple hygienic practices like washing hands with soap and water before and after a meal and after toilet should be taught to them. Nails should be kept short and clean and regular bathing is a must. Children love to play in puddles but this may lead to worms, like hookworms entering the body through their feet; Water logging conceals a lot of rubbish filling over from dustbins, drains and manholes. It often contains glass pieces, stone chips, slivers of wood and other substances which can inflict serious injuries on tender bare feet. So they should be encouraged to wear proper footwear while playing outside.
Skin conditions, also aggravate because of excess humidity. So it is important to bathe regularly and keep the skin clean and dry to avoid problems like fungal infections. This is especially true for diabetic patients who need to take extra care of their feet during monsoon season as they pick up fungal infections more easily. These patients should take specific care as not to walk barefoot since the soil on which they walk is a reservoir of all types of germs.
Asthma patients also need to take special care during monsoon as they should ensure that there is no accumulation and seepage of water from the vicinity of their residence since that will cause severe health problems. They should also ensure that fungus does not grow in the wooden furniture and in other articles like shoes and leather bags as this may trigger an asthmatic attack in such patients.
Climatic variations are also yet another cause of disease spread. Even getting wet in the rains can give rise to cold, coughs and fevers as well as body and joint pain. Sudden change in temperature from extreme heat to cold can precipitate viral infection. This is more troublesome in extreme of ages like the very young or very old. So they should avoid getting wet in the rain, they should be covered adequately especially when going out, should eat a nutritious diet and drink plenty of water to avoid getting ill.
Eye infections like conjunctivitis also occur more in this humid weather. They also spread faster as people remain indoors due to the rain and hence in close contact with an infected person. To prevent this, infected persons should wash eyes frequently and avoid sharing towels, fomites etc .To avoid spread frequent hand washing too is recommended for infected persons.
Mosquitoes spread diseases like dengue fever and malaria. Collection of water in potholes and stagnation of water acts as breeding grounds for them. Prohibit mosquito breeding by not letting water accumulate in your surroundings. Do not store water in uncovered pots for a long time. Change water of coolers, flower vases etc frequently, or put a few drops of kerosene or petrol in the stagnant water to check the undesired mosquito breeding. Mosquito repellents and mosquito net should be used wherever possible.
Weeds in enclosed ponds and water storages should be viewed only with caution, as they become dwellings for rats because of advantageous shelter providing characteristics. The water gets contaminated with rat urine containing microorganisms. The persons who come into physical contact with such water turn out to be victims of disease like leptospirosis. The germs enter their bodies even through minor cuts and wounds and mucous membranes of eyes or oral cavity on immersion or taking bath.
Apart from naturally occurring diseases described above, electric injury due to leakage of current through faulty wiring in wet walls is also common during the monsoons. One should check the wirings, switches, plugs around the house for any leakage. Furthermore do not forget the electrical appliances. In case of any fault attend to them at the earliest.
I hope that these tips and some care on your part will make the monsoons a truly enjoyable season for you.
(Dr Vandana Sood is a specialist in maternal and child health.)