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•Experts list ways to combat dusty weather, infections
By Job Osazuwa
It is the season of the year, that period usually characterised by dusty and dry wind, which predisposes many people to cold, catarrh, sore throat and other harmattan-related infections.
At the moment, the harmattan haze is sweeping across the country, spreading a dusty wind and causing various health conditions.
Across many states, many people seem to be suffering from cough and other respiratory infections. Many of them have no idea on how to handle the health challenges.
Experts have explained that harmattan brings about changes in the environment, which in turn lead to an increase in the emergence of common cold and flu. Interestingly, the natural wind of change spares no one, man or woman, old or young. Dry lips and skin, catarrh and cold are very rampant throughout this period.
Harmattan is a geographical feature of the Sahel Savannah region of West Africa, characterised by cold, hazy atmosphere, dusty and dry weather. People’s lips and soles are the major sufferers, as they get cracked easily. The eyes are affected too and often become red with exposure to dust particles spread by the wind. The harshness is more pronounced in the northern part of the country, causing different health and environmental havocs.
Dermatologists, family physicians and public health experts have stressed the need to ensure good personal hygiene and general sanitation to curtail diseases associated with the harmattan. They also prescribe more intake of water, as people are thirstier and could get dehydrated in this period.
According to them, airborne diseases are common features of the dry and dusty season. Such could cause itching and redness of the eyes, especially in people suffering from eye diseases.
Visibility is poor for drivers and pilots, especially in the morning and at night. It is common for flights to be cancelled or delayed during this season for the sake of safety of passengers. The need for extra precaution in traversing point A to point B cannot be over-emphasised.
A consultant family physician at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Dr. Sodipo Olujimi, cautioned people with existing respiratory complications such as asthma and pneumonia in this season to be more conscious of their condition. He said the cold and dusty weather often aggravates these conditions.
Olujimi advised those suffering from asthma and other respiratory conditions to wear respirators to reduce exposure to the dust that could trigger an attack. He asked the patients to avoid dusty places and also go around with their inhalers.
He recommended regular and thorough washing of the hands, warning that failure to do so might lead to contraction of infections. He said washing of the eyes with clean water is also important to guard against acute haemorrhagic conjunctivitis, popularly known as apollo.
Olujimi warned that cold and dust come with some micro-organisms that are embedded in the particles that could be harmful to humans when inhaled.
The doctor urged residents to regularly clean their homes to avoid dust accumulation with its attendant problems like respiratory tract infection, which is bad news to asthma sufferers.
He advised the vulnerable, like the elderly, children and those with chronic diseases, to frequently visit their doctor for health screening and medication, if the need arises.
A study conducted in Kano in 2010 by a group of health experts revealed how viruses normally try to break the body’s defence mechanism and gain entrance through the nose. This explains why people are discouraged from using dirty fingers to touch the eyes, nose, or mouth, because these are the gates to the body.
Everyone might be vulnerable to harmattan-related diseases, but children under five years, infants, the elderly and internally displaced persons need to be more protected. Also needing special attention are people with immune-incompetence such as sickle cell anaemia, cancer, asthma and rheumatism as well as those that are easily down with cough and catarrh.
Natural remedies for hamarttan-related infections
A Lagos-based general practitioner, Oludara David Agboola, told the reporter that one of the ways one could stay healthy during harmattan was to take more vitamin supplements as often as possible. He said some might be prescribed by the doctor or one could buy supplements like Vitamin C to keep the body safe, while children could be given syrup of vitamins.
“The primary function of this vitamin supplement is to prevent harmattan-related diseases and other diseases such as scurvy, flu, cough, and so on, which may affect people, adults or babies, when exposed to dusty winds.
“Another thing you need in order to cope and live healthy during harmattan is to wear thick clothing. Wearing thick clothing helps to prevent cold infection or over-exposing the chest to cold symptoms. You can keep your children or babies safe and warm by getting them to put on thick clothes.
“Use balm/body moisturiser because the harmattan causes dry skin, dry lips, lip cracks, skin cracks and so on. So, the only way to manage this is by using lip balms on your lips, and applying moisturising cream on the body. Using this is healthy due to its oil contents. It protects the skin’s surface from various irritations that may surface.
“And one of the best ways to keep babies safe is by rubbing their body with shea butter or any wet skin lotion that prevents the skin from total dryness.”
The expert stressed the need to eat a lot of fruits during harmattan, explaining that fruits contain vitamins and minerals that prevent diseases and also increase the body’s metabolism.
“Thank God fruits are not too expensive and they can be found everywhere. Fruits also contain water and fibre, which aid digestion and ease the passage of faeces from the body. It is also good to wash fruits and vegetables very well before eating.
“Both adults and children should bathe with warm water in the morning and night. This will keep the body warm and free of cold and other flu symptoms. Bathing little children with warm water also keeps them from flu or other related diseases.
“Harmattan period is a time to avoid cold drinks. People should take warm water or warm drinks. Cold drinks or cold water during the harmattan period is not healthy because it may lead to cough, flu, sore throat, catarrh, etc,” Agboola said.
Describing the weather as a harsh one, he said people need to stay indoors, if they don’t have anything important to do outside. This step, he said, would help them stay warm and healthy.
He urged people selling food, especially in the open, to properly keep their food covered, except when about to be served. He said it wad also important to keep cooked and uncooked foodstuff covered at all times because they could be infected with air-borne bacteria.
He kicked against reckless burning of bushes and said that handling highly flammable materials should be done with care.
The good news that harmattan brings is that the weather is unfavourable for mosquitoes to breed, thereby reducing malaria. The incidents of malaria among those aged below five usually reduces in the harmattan season.