By Cosmas Omegoh
About this time every year, Nigerians witness a drop in weather temperature believed to be associated with the seasonal August Break.
While this lasts, there is temporary cessation of the rains – sometimes for one straight month. Dryness prevails as the weather gets colder than it used to be even when the Sun is up in the sky blazing with its usual intensity.
This year, there is a new dimension to what the people used to know about the Nigerian climate.
According to a viral suggestion in the social media, this year’s cold weather condition is inspired by what is being now referred as Aphelion phenomenon.
Late last month, for instance, a certain warning popped up in the social media informing about the approach of the said condition.
Social media users were warned that Aphelion phenomenon would begin in late July and lasts till August 22.
The natural occurrence, it was learnt, would cause a pronounced decrease in weather condition. Daily temperature would fall below the usual – not only in Nigeria, but elsewhere around the world.
A part of that warning tasked everyone to brace up to a cold temperature regime.
The concern associated with the said Aphelion Phenomenon is that it would usher in various health challenges.
The report noted that “during this time, we will experience cold weather like never before,” listing the challenges as “aches, stuffy throat, fever, cough, and breathing problems.”
The report then advised everyone to strengthen his or her “immune system, with vitamins and their healthy food products.”
Those who followed the health advisory, fear that they might be mistaken for COVID-19 which is believed to be lurking at the corner still.
Among health experts, there is this air of strangeness about the Aphelion phenomenon because they believe it does not exist anywhere in the medical literature.
However, they stand together that everyone needs to be armed with useful health tips to protect themselves especially at a time like now.
According to Wikipedia, “Aphelion is an annual phenomenon when the Earth is farthest away from the Sun.”
It notes that “since the Earth rotates in an elliptical orbit, the distance between the Sun and Earth varies through the year.”
Wikipedia in another article describes Aphelion as “an astronomical term which refers to the point the orbit of a planet or comet or other bodies is most distant from the Sun.”
It adds that “when the Earth is at its Aphelion in early July, it is about 4,800,000 km farther from the Sun than when at its Perihelion in early January.”
Quoting the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Wikipedia further stated that “the average distance between the Earth and the Sun is roughly 150 million km and during Aphelion is about 152 million km.”
Also quoting Britannica, Wikipedia says: “An object’s aphelion is the point in its orbit around the Sun when it is furthest away from the Sun. This happens because these orbits are not perfectly circular.
“As a result, the Earth is sometimes closer, and sometimes further away from the Sun. The closest point is known as the Earth’s Perihelion.”
Our correspondent learnt that Aphelion phenomenon and its effects are generating a debate among the few that know what it means.
Wikipedia quotes Prof. Husin Alatas, professor of IPB University in Theoretical Physics and lecturer in Complex Systems Physics at the Physics Undergraduate Study Program (S1) claiming that: “Extreme weather that can have an impact on health such as the appearance of cough and cold symptoms are unlikely to be caused by the two positions of the earth from the sun.”
He maintained that “avoiding hoaxes related to natural phenomena that are associated with certain bad conditions needs to be done by pursuing a critical and skeptical attitude, and relying on true science and not pseudo-science.”
In another instance, Wikipedia quotes Steven C. Rockport, of University of Southern Maine USA, author of the article: “How much does Aphelion affect our weather?” contending that: “Aphelion does affect our weather, but not in the way that one might think.”
Indeed, not all medical experts want to be drawn to the argument.
However, those who spoke to our correspondent admitted the effects of the Aphelion phenomenon; they advised Nigerians to protect themselves.
Aphelion phenomenon, the medical perspective
Dr Tajudeen Mobolaji is the vice chairman, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Lagos State chapter.
He said “Aphelion is more of a scientific than a medical phenomenon.
According to him, “what scientists are saying is that during this period (Aphelion), the Earth moves far away from the Sun. That will give us a drop in temperature which may encourage flu or cold and stuffs like that.
“However, the drop in temperature may not be too different from what we have been seeing before.
“So, I don’t believe that will be the cause of people having flue.
“It may not be the temperature that is causing the flu; the causative agents of the flu may be virus which flourishes better in a cold environment.
“There are times when people in other climes experience disparity in temperatures. That is why they are used to higher incidents of flu during winter than summer.”
Dr Abayomi Ogunbekun, the chairman, Christian Health Association of Nigeria (CHAN) Lagos State chapter also admitted that the Aphelion phenomenon is more of a scientific than a medical concept.
“We gathered that the Aphelion phenomenon is a time in the life of the universe when the Earth is far from the Sun.
“The Sun gives us warmth. But during Aphelion, the Earth will be very cold because temperature will drop. “If it is affecting us in Africa, you can imagine what will happen in Europe and places like Canada and Alaska.
“We learnt that for decades, this has not happened. And that this will last till the end of August.
“From what we learnt, no one can see the phenomenon; we can only feel the impact.
“We also learnt that people might start having flu, cough, and shortness of breath.”
Dr Douglas Nkemdilim who works at a mission hospital in Nnewi, Anambra State says Aphelion phenomenon is strange to Medicine. He, however, acknowledged that the country is in the middle of cold season right now.
“About this time every year, we always experience relative cold weather which everyone is careful about,” he said.
Difference between flu and COVID-19
But in some ways, does the flu associated with Aphelion phenomenon resemble COVID-19?
The answer, according to Dr Mobolaji, is that “both flu and COVID-19 are both viral infections,” assuring that “the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are different from those of flu.”
To ensure that one does not confuse the two, Dr Ogunbekun advised anyone in doubt to go for a test.
What to do to stay healthy
Now, the bottom-line is: what should people do to stay off the harm’s way?
For Dr Mobolaji, people need to keep warm, drink more fluid, and mind the way they cough, and use a handkerchief when they do so.”
He urged everyone “to reduce human contact as much as possible, and keep away from people that have flu-like symptoms.”
He also advised people to “avoid things that have to do with droplets from sneezing and coughs, and ensure regular hand sanitising.”
He further urged “regular intake of vitamins especially Vitamin C, and warm drinks,” at a time like now,” adding: “If we protect ourselves, we are sure to be free from whatever Aphelion phenomenon will likely bring.”
Dr Ogunbekun on his apart, advised people to increase supplement intake, adding: “Take more of warm, rather than cold things.”
He warned that “if people fail to do this, they might start having flu. People who have asthma, pneumonia or long-standing chronic diseases might worsen their conditions if they continue to take cold stuffs.”
He tasked parent to “keep their children warm especially at night time, and feed them well too.”
He further said: “Now, children need vitamins and fruits. Parents should ensure they eat as much balanced diet as they can afford.”
He warned against spending long time in air-conditioned environments, saying: “Avoid air-conditioners in cars, offices and living rooms for now. Staying in warn environments is better.
“People should not expose themselves to cold. Always wear materials that will cover the body. At night times wear socks. And where possible raise the legs with pillows to enhance blood circulation.”
While adding his voice to the advisory, Dr Nkemdilim noted that what is import about now is for individuals to “eat foods that are warm.
“Avoid cold foods as much as possible. People should take more of warm fluids. Those who cannot take plain warm water should consider regular intake of tea, or coffee.
“Individuals who are allergic to cold weather should avoid exposing themselves unnecessarily.”
Then he went the memory lane, recalling: “In those days, our grand fathers, as uninformed as one might believe they were, knew how to tackle times like this. They always made fires in their obi (outer palour) where they warmed themselves – to stay healthy. Now, this has been replaced with heater by those who can.”