Monsoon hygiene: Get set to get wet

Monsoon is an ideal time for infections to catch you. A high degree of personal hygiene will help you run away from them and enjoy the rain

Two girls walking on road in rain

The months April and May, are scorching hot, almost unbearable—making us wish and pray for an early monsoon. Even as we look to the skies for relief, one must remember that monsoon, along with bringing down the temperature and giving us a respite from the sizzling heat, also brings with it a set of diseases and problems that can assume serious proportions. Good personal hygiene can help prevent most of them.

Pouring problems

The rainy season is notorious for bringing with it a host of viral, fungal and bacterial diseases that can range from simple cold and cough [flu] and stomach upsets, to major diseases like malaria, dengue, typhoid, gastroenteritis, food poisoning, cholera, jaundice, pneumonia and leptospirosis. Skin infections caused by bacteria and fungus due to the high moisture content of the air, too abound. While some of these diseases are spread by vectors like mosquitoes, others are either air-borne or spread by infected water and food.

Children tend to fall sick more often during monsoons compared to adults because of low levels of immunity. They also play outdoors and thus come in contact with a lot of contaminants. Babies, in the stage of teething, are prone to rotavirus diarrhoea—a disease that can turn serious. Often, children top the number of patients hospitalised during monsoons, mainly due to food poisonings and gastroenteritis.

Infinite infections

During monsoon, certain factors come together to cause an increase in the incidence of infections. One of the main factors is the high water content in the air. Most germs need high water content to thrive and grow. Stagnated water bodies are another characteristic of the season. Many insects like mosquitoes and flies need such bodies to lay their eggs and grow their young ones. The ultra-violet rays from the sun are capable of killing a lot of viruses and bacteria. But the heavy cloud cover prevents sunlight from effectively reaching the earth’s surface.

The ambient temperature during this season is conducive for the growth of germs—it is neither too hot nor too cold. All these together in addition to pooling of water, leaky walls and roofs, overflowing gutters, water logging and impure drinking water make the season an ideal time for infections. And the only protection against many of these problems, apart from vaccinations for some of the diseases, is a high degree of personal and environmental hygiene.

Hygienic habits

Apart from having a bath once or twice a day and washing hands with soap frequently, there are measures you need to take to prevent illness.

Drink pure water

One of the commonest sources of infection during the rainy seasons is water. Due to the heavy rainfall, the water that is supplied through our taps is often muddy and filled with germs. Do not consume tap water directly, at least during the rainy season, and preferably all year round. You can render drinking water safe by boiling, filtering, or by using commercially available ultraviolet or reverse osmosis purifiers. Or just stick to bottled mineral water. Just by doing this you will protect yourself against over 50 per cent of the diseases that are common during this time, like food poisoning, gastroenteritis, cholera, jaundice, typhoid and para-typhoid. Drinking clean water eliminates several worm infestations that occur through infected water. While some of these diseases are easy to cure, others like cholera and typhoid can lead to hospitalisation and in rare cases, can even be fatal.

Watch what you eat

Like water, food too can cause several infections. Here are five good food practices to follow this monsoon.

  • Eat freshly cooked food —within a few hours of preparation.
  • Do not consume foods kept in the refrigerator for long periods; it may cause vomiting or loose motions. Before consuming refrigerated food, check to see if it has started to decompose by observing changes in colour, smell, and taste. In case you have even a small doubt, discard the food.
  • Keep eating out to a bare minimum; it carries the risk of infection. Completely refrain from eating and drinking juices at roadside stalls during the rains. Even if you are forced to eat outside, opt for foods, which are steaming hot or fried, as they are less likely to be contaminated.
  • Avoid consuming uncooked food like salads.
  • Ensure that fruits and sweets are fresh before consuming them, and discard leftovers.

Stay away from dirty water

In the last few years, incidence of Leptospirosis during monsoons has increased. This disease is caused by a bacterium. The germ is excreted by rats and other animals into the atmosphere and gets into the rain water from gutters, which overflow during rains. When a person with open wounds or cuts comes in contact with flood water, the germs enter the blood stream and attack the liver. The infected person comes down with high fever and jaundice, which, if not diagnosed early and treated, can be fatal. If you are forced to wade through logged waters, take preventive medicine. At the earliest sign of fever, get tested and mention to your doctor that you have walked through dirty water. Also, attend to all cuts and wounds, especially in the legs immediately.

Keep mosquitoes away

Mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue and chikangunya have assumed epidemic proportions in the last few years. The rampant water stagnation and pooling during the monsoons provide ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. As far as possible, water should not be allowed to stagnate. All water sources like wells, tanks, construction reservoirs, underground sumps and overhead tanks should be covered. Gutters and drainage systems should be of the closed type, something for your local authorities to do. In residential buildings, as a preventive measure, get the underground and overhead tanks cleaned, both before and after the monsoons. Use mosquito repellents and covered clothing [especially for children] to minimise mosquitoe bites. Visit a doctor at the earliest sign of fever, and if necessary, get tested for malaria and dengue.

Protect your skin

Keeping yourself dry at all times is important, as the chances of contracting infective skin diseases are high during this time. In case you get wet in the rain, shift to warm dry clothing as soon as possible. Keep an extra set of clothes at your workplace if required but don’t spend your day in wet clothes. Have bath daily and frequently wash your face and hands; it helps get rid of the excessive oiliness that occurs in the monsoon.

Washing hands frequently also prevents other infections and is an important hygiene habit.

Don’t mind the monsoon

two friends walking in rainThere is a lot of truth in the adage, ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’. A clean body and a neat, clean environment are very important for one to be at peace. During the monsoons, the cloud cover, and the incessant downpour make the general atmosphere dark and dreary. The overcast mood extends to homes and offices too. If this is coupled with dirt and dampness, add to it flies and mosquitoes, you start feeling depressed and down. Keeping yourself and your immediate surroundings clean, quickly shifting to dry clothes, having piping hot food or beverages, go a long way in lifting your spirits.

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P V Vaidyanathan
Dr P V Vaidyanathan, MD, DCH, is a Mumbai-based paediatrician in private practice, hobbyist writer, and author of a book on childhood stress management.


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