When the rain comes, so do infectious diseases

Children will certainly have fun playing in flood waters, as seen in this filepic, but parents need to discourage them from doing so as flood water can contain all sorts of germs.

The unceasing downpours during the rainy season can be a nuisance.

Imagine the traffic jams and floods, making going anywhere a major hassle, especially during rush hour.

Even worse, a myriad of diseases also tend to spread during this season.

The monsoon, or rainy, season in Malaysia typically starts from October to February in the East Coast, Sabah and Sarawak; and from July to August in the West Coast.

With the rain, comes fluctuation in temperatures, as well as an increase in humidity.

More puddles with stagnant water will form and the chances of flash floods increases, especially with ineffective drainage systems.

This results in increasing incidences of diseases such as waterborne diseases, influenza, leptospirosis and dengue fever.

Children are more susceptible to these diseases as their immune system is still developing.

Diseases galore

Waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid fever are caused by infections transmitted through the contact or consumption of contaminated water or food.

Cholera, which is caused by the Vibrio cholerae bacterium, comes with diarrhoea and vomiting, while typhoid fever, caused by the Salmonella typhi or Salmonella paratyphi bacterium, has symptoms such as high fever, headache and poor appetite.

Influenza is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system. It is different from a typical cold and manifests suddenly.

Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, headache, muscle aches and fatigue.

Most people will recover in a few days, but some may develop severe complications such as pneumonia or sepsis, which can be fatal.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by Leptospira.

Humans get infected through contact with urine of infected animals such as rodents or dogs, or contact with contaminated water, soil or food.

Symptoms include high fever, chills, headache, muscle ache, jaundice, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Without proper treatment, it can lead to kidney failure, meningitis, and even death.

Dengue fever is a viral infection caused by the virus Flaviviridae.

The virus is transmitted through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti female mosquitoes.

Dengue fever exhibits similar symptoms to flu.

The illness may progress to dengue haemorrhagic fever, with more severe symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, convulsions and uncontrolled bleeding. At this stage, it can be fatal.

Take shelter from illness

Bad weather may dampen your day, but do not let it affect your family’s health.

  • Stay dry and clean

    Always carry an umbrella or raincoat when going out.

    Avoid getting splashed with dirty water.

    Explain to children that flood water is NOT a swimming pool! All kinds of dirt and germs are contained in floodwater.

    It is also physically dangerous as we cannot see the ground while walking, which may result in children falling into unseen potholes.

    Good hygiene is important, in particular, hands should be washed thoroughly after using the toilet, as well as before and after preparing and eating food.
  • Keep a clean home

    Maintain the general cleanliness of your home. Disinfect your home regularly, especially the kitchen, dining table and bathrooms.

    Prevent pests like rats, cockroaches or flies, from infesting your home by using traps or safe pesticides as they may seek refuge in high and dry areas like in our homes, during the rainy season.
  • Be more cautious with food and drink

    Eat only well-cooked food.

    Wash fresh fruits and veggies with clean running water.

    Store food properly to keep pests away.

    Street foods are more exposed to contamination, so it is best to avoid them during the rainy season.

    Stay hydrated with clean and boiled drinking water.
  • No mosquitoes allowed!

    Apply mosquito repellent on exposed skin, especially when going outdoors.

    Use mosquito nets or screens to keep the mosquitoes away.

    Do not let mosquitoes breed – cover water containers, replace water in flower vases regularly, clean the gutters of leaves or trash to prevent rainwater from collecting, and dispose of all unused cans, jars, bottles or tyres that can collect water.

For added protection against infections during the monsoon season, vaccines are available for some of these diseases.

Annual seasonal flu vaccines are available in two types: trivalent or quadrivalent.

The Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine is provided under the National Immunisation Programme.

Vaccines for cholera and typhoid fever are available and are recommended when travelling to countries where these diseases are common.

While you cannot make rain go away, you can shield yourself and the family from illnesses by taking the right precautions.

Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail is a consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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