Last week, the Rwanda Meteorology Agency asked government departments in charge of disaster management to prepare for above normal rains with El Niño expected to start next month.
In what is predicted to be the worst El Niño phenomenon hitting East Africa in five decades, Eastern Province and the City of Kigali will also have near normal rainfall with tendencies to above normal rainfall in few places. But as we celebrate the cool air, less dust and the end of the scorching sun we have endured for months, albeit temporary, we must remember that such weather can also have an effect on one’s health. Shamin Nirere looks at diseases that can be caused or worsened by the rains, and how you can sail through the rainy season healthy and sound.
Risk of malaria
The rainy season usually comes with a rise in malaria cases. Malaria is caused by bites from female anopheles mosquitoes. When stagnant water is left in our neighbourhoods in anything that can hold water like flower vessels, old tyres or water containers, mosquitoes will have found a perfect breeding ground.
According to a study, “Relationship between malaria infection intensity and rainfall pattern in Entebbe peninsula, Uganda”, parasite density tends to rise soon after the start of the rain. “As vector population increases, transmission of infection subsequently rises hence the increase in parasite density,” the report says.
Dr Steven Rulisa, a medical practitioner at CHUK Hospital in Kigali, advises against keeping bushes and stagnant water around one’s home in order to deny mosquitoes an opportunity to multiply. He further appeals to people to be inside the house early to minimise mosquito bites. “Also sleep under a mosquito net or use safe mosquito repellents when you sleep to avoid mosquito bites,” he says. One can also opt for safe repellants or take anti malaria medicine.
According to reports, there were about 198 million cases of malaria globally in 2013 and an estimated 584,000 deaths, and most of them occur among children living in Africa. To bring it home, reports indicate that approximately 900,000 cases of malaria were diagnosed, out of which 409 died — 30 percent of them being children under five. And although malaria comes as the fourth killer disease in Rwanda after neonatal illness, pneumopathies and cardio-vascular diseases, Rwanda Medical Center hopes to reduce the malaria burden to less than 5% by 2018.
Common colds and influenza
Research has concluded that being exposed to wet weather will not cause you to contract infections, but your chance of developing a cold or flu increases during that period because the virus thrives better in a damp and humid atmosphere. To minimise the risk of infection, health experts say one should stay away from those that are infected, keep the hands away from their eyes and nose, always wash hands and clean surfaces that may be infected with bacteria or viruses with a disinfectant. Taking warm fluids can also be helpful.
After suffering from a cold or flu for a while, it makes it hard for your lungs to fight infection, so it is easier to get pneumonia. Pneumonia, which can affect one or both lungs, can make one cough, develop a fever and find it hard to breathe is more common among young children and the elderly. The respiratory illness kills an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five every year. About 99 percent of these deaths are in developing countries.
According to the World Health Organisation, pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide. Pneumonia killed an estimated 935 000 children under the age of five in 2013, accounting for 15% of all deaths of children under five years old.
On the other hand, while environmental allergens and pollutants such as animal dander, smoke, and pollen can prompt an asthma attack, a change in weather conditions — from cold air to humidity and even thunderstorms — can do the same. One way to control weather-triggered asthma is by taking your prescribed asthma medications, limiting outdoor activity and wearing a scarf around the nose and mouth.
Dr Emmanuel Hakizimana, the director of vector control at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, recently warned that cholera is among the diseases that will most likely hit Rwandans if climate changes for worse. Cholera, according to the World Health Organisation, is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Researchers have estimated that every year, there are roughly 1.4 to 4.3 million cases, and 28 000 to 142 000 deaths per year worldwide due to cholera. Research indicates that cholera germs can be transmitted by eating food contaminated with the pathogens that thrive in human faecal matter, draining latrines into drainage channels, defecating in open places, eating food or drinks prepared under unhygienic conditions and poor personal hygiene. Between 2010 and 2015, 94 per cent of cholera outbreaks were recorded in the districts along Lake Kivu, while 71 per cent of cholera outbreaks usually are reported in the rainy season.
Dysentery is also common during the rains. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines dysentery as any episode of diarrhea in which blood is present in loose, watery stools.
Dr. Joseph Kamugisha, who works with Kanombe Military Hospital, says the best way to avoid cholera and dysentery is by being conscious about hygiene and ensuring that consumable foods and water are boiled properly and covered.
“Also discard off foods that have gone bad instantly,” adds Asina Uhiriwe, a nurse at Remera Health Centre.
Chances of getting drenched during the rainy season are high — and the shoes will not survive getting wet. In many cases, either due to limited resources or love for a particular pair of shoes, there’s normally a temptation to wear them the next morning. However, doctors warn that fungus thrive in moist conditions. According to Uhiriwe, it is advisable to change the shoes you wear each day, and ensure that they are dry when you put them on.
Precautions during rainy season
- Keep Rain Gear With you Always — The most effective thing that you can do is to keep your rain gear always ready when you go out in rainy season. A raincoat with hooded jacket and waterproof shoes are the best items.
- Vitamin C — Increasing the intake of Vitamin C either in natural form or as food supplement will help you drive away the cold virus faster. It is still a matter of debate among doctors whether Vitamin C is cure for cold. However, a healthy supply of this vitamin will activate your antibodies and reduce the severity of cold, undoubtedly.
- Shower after being caught in rain — Although it sounds very unusual because if you are drenched in rain, you will never want to take another shower. But taking a shower after you have been caught in rain will protect you from many infections.
- Hot Drinks – After you come back home caught in a rain, take a shower, dry yourself and wear dry and clean clothes. The best thing is to make a hot soup for yourself or at least drink a cup of hot milk. This will help you from catching cold or save you from catching any kind of infection that can occur due to sudden change in the temperature of the body.
- Cleanliness — Cleanliness is very important during rainy season. Even if you catch a cold, you should clean your hands regularly and use a sanitizer always after that.
- Drink Plenty of Water – Water intake may reduce naturally because of the sudden drop in the temperature of the environment. It is good to drink plenty of water and do not wait to get thirsty to drink water. This will help you drain toxins from your body.
- Watch Out your Intake — Try to eat nutritious food and avoid eating out during rainy season. Prepare meal with full precaution and maintain health and hygiene throughout the house.