By Enyeribe Ejiogu
It is that time of the year, when the onset of the harmattan makes the weather inhospitable. Gusts of dry, cold winds blow huge volumes of dust into the air. At this time, it is not uncommon to see people wearing masks to protect their nostrils from inhaling dusty air. Other people make do with tying handkerchiefs around the nose and mouth.
At night, dust haze makes visibility low, and motorists must apply extra caution while on the road. But more importantly the weather condition brings with it very unpleasant health challenges, some of which are contagious and spread rapidly among the populace.
Dust inhalation and the attendant bacterial and viral infections lead to inflammation of the nostrils, trachea (windpipe) and the lungs, resulting in cold and catarrh. For elderly people contending with different forms of arthritis, asthma, or suffer from other allergies, the dusty, cold, dry harmattan period is a big health burden. For such people, they must endeavor to keep warm by wearing appropriate protective clothing.
It is also about this time that both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis (known in local parlance as Apollo), a contagious infection of the eyes, tends to manifest and spread among the populace. The primary reason is that the dry air (caused by low humidity – presence of extremely low moisture in the air) helps to promote the dispersal of viral and bacterial particles that in droplets released by infected individuals when they sneeze or cough into the air instead of doing so into a handkerchief or paper towel.
Ways to cope with health problems of the harmattan period
Among these are cold, catarrh, pulmonary bronchitis, asthma and pneumonia. Cold is generally caused by viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, comprising of the nostrils and trachea. When these parts are infected, the immune system tries to fight back by producing more mucous, to wet the surfaces of these tissues. The increased production of mucous leads to congestion and makes breathing difficult. Oftentimes, what follows is sore throat as tissues of the throat also become infected. The body tries to get more air into the lungs by inducing coughing and sneezing episodes. The congestion leads to runny nose and fever may also accompany this. Incidentally, the sneezing and coughing episodes, both of which are reflex actions of the body, tend to further spread the infection through droplets released by the infected person, thereby setting off another round of infection in other people, who unwittingly inhale the virus-laden droplets as they breathe. For this reason, people should wear nose masks, which can be purchased over the counter in any pharmacy or patent medicine shop. These days, it is now commonly sold by hawkers on roads prone to traffic gridlock.
Moreover, this is the time to fall in love with tea, as a way of getting more water into your body. It has been unquestionably established that tea is the second largest fluid consumed by man after water. Preferably it should be taken plain, without milk but with honey and perhaps slices of raw ginger. You should also get enough vitamin C, either as a supplement or take enough fruits. The body is known to utilize vitamin C to combat and reduce the severity of the infection.
Asthma patients need to take extra precaution during harmattan to avoid having respiratory crisis that could lead to death. Such individuals must never allow themselves to be exposed to cold. Therefore, it is a given that they must be properly covered with appropriate warm clothing. They should always keep their inhalers handy, and of course ensure that they take their medication as prescribed by the doctor. Equally important, if not more so, is the great need to avoid dust inhalation which can set off rapid allergic reaction that could produce congestion of the airway by mucous and possibly result in death if appropriate emergency medical intervention is not implemented within minutes.
As Wikipedia says, “conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is inflammation of the outermost layer of the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelid. It makes the eye appear pink or reddish. There may also be pain, burning, scratchiness, or itchiness. The affected eye may have increased tears or be “stuck shut” in the morning. Swelling of the white part of the eye may also occur. Itching of the eye is more common in cases due to allergies. Conjunctivitis can affect one or both eyes.”
The most common infectious causes are viral followed by bacterial. The viral infection may occur along with other symptoms of common cold. Both the viiral and bacterial cases are easily spread between people.
What usually happens is that the affected person frequently and unconsciously touches the affected eyes, rubbing and scratching. Viral and bacterial particles stick to the finger tips and spread to just about any other surface, including body parts. Other people pick up the infection when they touch the surface previously touched by the infected person. The infection is then introduced the eyes when the person rubs his own eyes, probably because of dust haze getting into them and stirring up an urge to scratch.
For reason, people should endeavor to avoid rubbing their eyes about this time. The best way to prevent or reduce the risk of infection to have a practice of washing the hands often with soap and water.
If you go out and return to your house, wash your hands first. If you work in an office environment, wash your hands often and possibly use a hand sanitizer with a reasonable level of strong alcohol.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause. In the majority of viral cases, there is no specific treatment. Most cases due to a bacterial infection will also resolve without treatment; however, antibiotics can shorten the illness.
Nigeria has witnessed several outbreaks of meningitis, a deadly infection that affects the delicate membranes known as meninges, which cover the brain and spinal cord. It is a contagious viral or bacterial infection that occurs among people in close contact.
In addition to the viral and bacterial types, there are also fungal and parasitic meningitis. But the focus today is on bacterial meningitis. According to Wikipedia, viral meningitis is the most common, it is rarely a serious infection. It can be caused by a number of different viruses, such as mosquito-borne viruses. There is no special treatment for this type of meningitis. In most cases the illness resolves itself within a week without any complications. However, bacterial meningitis is generally a serious and dangerous infection. It is caused by three types of bacteria: Haemophilus influenzae type b, Neisseria meningitides which also known as meningococcal meningitis, and Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria is called pneumococcal meningitis. People become infected when they have contact with the fluid secreted from a meningitis victim.
Outbreaks often occur in the northern part of the country, during the dry harmattan period, when cold weather compels family members to huddle together in poorly ventilated rooms and the infection spreads. It is health emergency that requires urgent medical intervention.
Antibiotics can be given to help prevent meningitis, because bacterial meningitis can be life-threatening. Standard meningitis treatment involves delivering the antibiotics intravenously, through a vein.