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5 diseases to be wary of this monsoon
Disha Pinge
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July 03, 2007

The rain clouds have arrived with a vengeance this year -- bringing with them bottomless potholes, waterlogged roads and endless traffic jams. While a sturdy umbrella and faithful raincoat will keep you warm and dry from the lashing winds and rain, there's another more sinister threat that you need to protect yourself and your family from.

The dampness, muck and stagnant pools of water are ideal breeding grounds for disease-causing microorganisms.

While almost anyone can fall prey to these diseases, children are most likely to fall sick and you should be cautious when young children take ill. The diseases that may keep you away from work for a few days can often be life-threatening in the case of a child, if proper care is not taken.

Here are some of the most common monsoon-related diseases you should protect your family from:

~ Malaria: The most notorious disease of the developing world -- malaria -- is caused by the protozoan Plasmodium spp. (P.vivax, P.falciparum, P.malariae or P.ovale). The disease is spread by the female Anopheles mosquito, that transfers the pathogen from an infected person to a healthy one.

Symptoms: A fever occurs at regular intervals, usually every day at the same time. Headaches and nausea are common along with bouts of shivering. The patient experiences muscle pain and weakness.

Prevention/ treatment:

i. Protect yourself from mosquitoes by using mosquito repellents and nets. Do not allow water to stagnate as mosquito larvae thrive in stagnating water. Ask your municipal authorities to spray your area with a mosquito repellent and clear any stagnating pools. If there is a lake or pond near your house, then introduce gambusia fish in it. These fish feed on mosquito larvae and can help control the mosquito population.

ii. If the patient is showing the symptoms listed above, see a doctor immediately. Malaria can be very harmful if not treated in time. The doctor will prescribe quinine-based anti-malarial drugs (such as chloroquine or primaquine). These drugs should be taken strictly as prescribed, as over-dosage can prove harmful.

iii. Special care should be taken if the patient is a child or a pregnant woman. Anti-malarial drugs might not agree with patients already suffering from renal failure, epilepsy, cardiac disease, hepatic insufficiency or dermatitis, so watch for any side effects.

iv. The patient should be kept warm and be given bed rest. The drugs might cause nausea and vomiting, which in turn may lead to dehydration. Patients must consume plenty of fluids (soups, juices, broth) and electrolytes to prevent dehydration.

~ Cholera: Vibrio cholerae is the pathogen that causes this deadly disease by infecting the small intestine. With an incubation period of 6-48 hrs, symptoms show quickly after infection. Generally caused by food and water contaminated by human faeces, cholera is highly contagious. Flies act as carriers of the disease, which is why the disease spreads faster in areas of poor sanitation.

Symptoms: The patient suffers from severe diarrhoea; stools are watery but painless. There might also be effortless vomiting without any nausea. There will be a lot of fluid loss in the first few hours, causing rapid weight loss and severe muscle cramps. Eyes may seem to be shrunken. Children infected with the disease may be prone to fever, convulsions and may even become comatose. Adults, on the other hand, experience mental apathy.

Prevention/ treatment:

i. Immunisation to cholera lasts for about six months. A person vaccinated for the first time should be immunised again after 10 days.

ii. In areas prone to cholera, all water should be boiled and food should be well cooked. All eatables should be covered and flies should be kept at bay.

iii. Proper personal hygiene and good sanitation in the surroundings should be maintained.

iv. The patient should be put on oral rehydration therapy, which provides almost immediate relief. Antibiotics like Tetracycline should supplement rehydration.

v. Although cholera is easy to treat, it could prove fatal if left untreated.

~ Typhoid: The disease is caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi and is highly infectious. The bacteria are present in human faeces, and a healthy person may fall prey to the disease by consuming contaminated food and water (this is known as the faeco-oral route). Some patients carry the infection in their gall bladder even after the disease is cured. The pathogen is the excreted and flies then act as carriers/ vectors, contaminating food and water.

Symptoms: The first indication of the disease is a prolonged fever that begins to rise on the fifth day. Headache and confusion are common along with severe abdominal pain. By the second week, the patient could develop a rash. There might also be bouts of constipation followed by diarrhoea.

Prevention/ treatment:

i. If you live in areas prone to contagious diseases, getting yourself vaccinated against typhoid will keep you safe.

ii. Once the diagnosis is confirmed by a blood, urine or faeces examination, the doctor should prescribe antibiotics.

iii. The patient should be isolated and will need to be nursed.

iv. The patient's fluid intake should be high to prevent dehydration caused diarrhoea.

v. Patients might suffer a relapse about two weeks after an apparent recovery.

~ Hepatitis A: The Hepatitis A virus causes this disease, which is spread by the faeco-oral route. Though there have been isolated cases of people contracting the disease by coming in direct contact with a patient, epidemics are caused by flies.

Symptoms: The patient shows symptoms similar to that of flu. High body temperature accompanied by headache and joint pains are experienced. The patient loses his/ her appetite and may suffer from nausea and vomiting. Patients might even have a rash. In 3 to 10 days after onset of disease, urine tend to be dark coloured while stools are light coloured. A general yellow tinge appears on the patient's body.

Prevention/ treatment:

i. The hepatitis virus vaccination is a must.

ii. Bed rest is recommended till the fever subsides.

iii. The patient should have a high-calorie diet, low in proteins and fats.

iv. If you are caring for the patient, make sure to wash your hands properly after coming in contact with the patient's bedpan, clothes and objects of everyday use.

~ Leptospirosis: This disease affects both animals and human beings and is caused by the bacterium Leptospira spp. The disease is usually spread through the consumption of contaminated water and contaminated food or by wading in dirty water (as happens in floods) with open wounds.

Symptoms: The patient has a high fever accompanied by cold chills. Severe headaches or muscle ache is common. As the disease intensifies, the patient may suffer from nausea, vomiting and later abdominal pain with diarrhoea. A rash also develops. If the disease is not treated, the patient could develop liver failure, respiratory diseases, kidney damage or meningitis.

Prevention/ treatment:

i. Avoid contact with stagnant rainwater, it is likely to be contaminated by animal urine.

ii. Keep all wounds clean and covered; use antiseptics to clean the wound and prevent infection.

iii. Avoid swimming in possibly contaminated water (sea, lakes, etc).

iv. A timely diagnosis can help in controlling the spread of disease.

v. Antibiotics (doxycycline or penicillin) should be administered in the early stages of the disease. If the patient exhibits severe symptoms, IV antibiotics may need to be administered.


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