The Monsoon’s Most Common Maladies
The monsoon is a blessing and a curse; it brings respite from the summer heat, but also seasonal diseases that can knock out your entire family. Knowing what symptoms to look out for and what precautions to take can ensure your days are full of rain-soaked fun, rather than visits to the doctor. To help you, we’ve put together an introduction to the most common maladies of the monsoons.
Most monsoon-related illnesses have similar, generic symptoms – high fever, headaches, vomiting – which can be confusing and delay treatment. The key is knowing how each are contracted, which can help you avoid risky environments and zero in on the right illness if you do become sick. As always, visit your doctor immediately if you experience any of the symptoms below.
Leptospirosis is caused by contact with the Leptospira bacteria, which is spread through water contaminated by animal urine. Symptoms include high fever, muscle ache, chills, vomiting and diarrhoea. It may seem like this is a problem you won’t have with a water filter in your home. But unfortunately, poor street hygiene means it’s still a risk, even if you live an animal-free life. Floods, puddles, and even rainwater running down a slope can mix with animal urine. Wearing closed shoes, bathing as soon as you get home, and immediately washing wet socks, trousers and skirts (and any other splashable clothes) are good precautions.
Malaria is caused by a parasite spread through infected mosquitos. And, as everyone who is currently scratching an itch knows, mosquitos proliferate during the monsoon.
“There is so much stagnating water in the monsoon [which mosquitoes use to breed],” says Dr. Surbhi Rathi, professor of paediatrics at Nair Hospital, Mumbai. “Breeding places increase, so the amount of mosquitos increases.”
Symptoms of malaria include high fever, sweating, chills, headache, nausea and fatigue. Pregnant women should be especially vigilant about visiting a doctor at the first sign of symptoms as the infection affects them more severely and poses a risk to their unborn child.
Protect yourself by using mosquito repellent creams and sprays, indoors and outdoors. Clothing that fully covers the arms and legs will also help by limiting exposed areas for mosquitos to bite. Take special care of places where water collects – such as water tanks, buckets, watering cans, vases, flower pots and pet bowls – keeping them covered or replacing the water regularly.
Dengue is also spread by mosquitoes, but is caused by a virus, not a parasite. Its symptoms can vary, as there are two types of the infection: dengue fever and its more severe form, dengue haemorrhagic fever. Symptoms of dengue fever include high fever, severe pain behind the eyes, joint, muscle or bone pain, rash, nausea and vomiting. In dengue haemorrhagic fever, the fever will subside after a few days but other symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, vomiting, rapid breathing, bleeding from the nose, gums or mouth and restlessness will develop.
As with malaria, you can protect your home by using mosquito repellents, wearing covering clothing, and preventing water from collecting and stagnating.
Acute gastroenteritis, more commonly known as the stomach flu, is a virus contracted via food or water. Symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache and low fever. This is one of the most common monsoon maladies because it is so easily spread; a person who has gastroenteritis can transfer the virus to food and drink if they don’t wash their hands properly after using the bathroom.
You can guard against gastroenteritis by eating out less frequently during the monsoon and only frequenting restaurants with impeccable hygiene. Avoid eating street food and raw vegetables. When cooking at home, wash fruits and veggies thoroughly before eating or cooking them. Refrigerate all perishable foods and store meat, poultry and seafood away from fruits and vegetables. Finally, always wash your hands thoroughly before handling food.
LOWER RESPIRATORY TRACT INFECTIONS
These infections of the airways and lungs, usually caused by viruses, encompass the flu, pneumonia, tuberculosis, bronchiolitis and bronchitis. The most common symptom for these infections is a severe cough, often accompanied by phlegm, although sufferers may also experience wheezing, shortness of breath or an increased breathing rate. Symptoms for pneumonia also include high fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and headaches.
These infections are communicated most often through the sneezes and coughs of an infected person. While you can’t control whether someone covers their mouth, you can guard against contracting it through indirect contact, that is, by touching something an ill person has touched previously. Wash your hands thoroughly before eating and washing your face, and avoid absentmindedly touching your face.
Asthma, a constriction of the airways that affects 15-20 million people in India, is often exacerbated during the monsoon, which sees an increase of irritating pollen and mold in the air. Asthma can often be mistaken for respiratory tract infections – according to Dr. Rathi, children who exhibit shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing for the first time are often treated for viral illnesses – so if these symptoms persist after treatment, consider inquiring about an asthma test.