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Stay safe this monsoon

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Contaminated water can lead to a host of deadly diseases but you can prevent them with a little care

In Mumbai, it doesn’t take long for the Bombay Municipal Corporations’ assurances to unravel, and sure enough, on the first day of the monsoon in the city this weekend, the roads were flooded. This is good fun if you are a schoolboy jumping about in ankle-deep water, but for most people, flooded streets are a sign that they need to be careful. The monsoon, though much awaited after the months of baking in the summer heat, can bring about a host of water-borne diseases, such as cholera, diarrhoea, hepatitis and other nasties.

While there is a great deal that the government should be doing, in many cases, the illnesses can be prevented through simple techniques of ensuring you drink boiled water; washing your hands and vessels and staying away from unhygienic food, where the water in the pani-puri may be dicey and there are flies buzzing around. Once, in the rain, we even saw a milkman diluting the contents of his container with water gushing down a roof, thrilled by his ingenuity.

Poor-quality drinking water and sanitation leads to a host of diseases. Here are the key illnesses to watch out for and their symptoms. Don’t delay seeing a doctor if you suspect something is wrong—even if it is a simple cough and cold.


Diarrhoea, one of the major causes of childhood mortality, is the most common waterborne disease in India. While it can strike anyone, children under the age of five are more affected. Symptoms include bloating, stomach pain, weight loss, abdominal cramps and a dry mouth. It is important to keep the body hydrated; drink fresh juice or pure water and stay away from dairy products. If the diarrhoea is acute, lasting two or three days, home care should be enough, but if severe, visit a doctor; you may be given antibiotics.

To prevent diarrhoea, always wash hands thoroughly when you use the toilet; drink safe water; store food in a refrigerator before it has a chance to spoil and avoid uncooked food.


This is another common water-borne disease in India, associated with high fever. The bacteria, Salmonella typhi, is transmitted from human to human as no animals can carry it. The symptoms take a while to show up, about two to three weeks after the infection occurs. High fever, rashes, weakness, stomach pain, constipation, vomiting and diarrhoea are some of the symptoms. Antibiotics are required and it is important to finish the entire course of medicines even if you start feeling better. Prevent typhoid by drinking clean water, thoroughly cleaning fruits and veggies and avoiding raw produce.


Cholera can attack you when you drink water that is contaminated with the Vibrio Cholerae bacterium, which is generally found in food or water polluted by the faeces of an infected person. It is diarrhoeal in nature and can kill within hours if neglected. This infectious acute disease causes infection in the intestine, which results in extreme loss of body fluids and electrolytes and causes severe, and sometimes fatal, dehydration.

The symptoms of cholera can vary from mild to severe. They can show up within a couple of hours or linger for five days before becoming visible. A person with cholera disease loses body fluids very quickly and became completely dehydrated. Diarrhoea, low blood pressure, nausea, dry mouth, muscle cramps, dry skin, sunken eyes should all be warning signs. Replace the fluids that the body loses and see the doctor at once. Precautions to prevent cholera include washing hands before preparing food and after using the bathroom; washing hands frequently with soap and water; eating fruits and veggies that can be peeled; avoiding street food and raw and undercooked meat.

Hepatitis A

This contagious liver infection is caused by a virus and its symptoms include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, low-grade fever, joint pain and darker urine. Good hygiene is your best protection against this and with proper medication, full recovery is possible. Stay away from alcohol, replenish fluids and get adequate rest. A hepatitis vaccine can help prevent infection.


Malarial fever is spread by the Plasmodium parasite mosquito that breeds in stagnant water. It is transmitted to human beings through the bite of the Anopheles mosquito. Since the symptoms often resemble flu, they sometimes go undetected. The affected person goes through cold, hot and sweating stages—cold and shivering; fever, headache and vomiting and sometimes seizures. Sweating is followed by normal temperature and a sense of fatigue. In cases of severe malaria, there can be impaired consciousness, respiratory distress and organ malfunction. See a doctor immediately.

Prevent disease

Protect yourself this monsoon season with a little caution, some common sense and simple techniques such washing your hands thoroughly. If you have the slightest apprehension that something is wrong, see a doctor at once.

A few simple precautions

Dr Roy Patankar, gastroenterologist and director, Zen Multispeciality Hospital, Chembur, says, "Food and water-borne illness, often referred to as food poisoning, is generally caused by eating or drinking food or beverages contaminated by bacteria, parasites or viruses.  These organisms are passed in the feces of animals and infected people.  Symptoms of food or water-borne illness are gastrointestinal, for example diarrhea and stomach cramps.  You can also get sick from swimming in contaminated water or from close contact with someone else who is ill."

Here is some advice from Dr Patankar     

Wash and/or peel all raw vegetables and fruits.

Thoroughly cook meats, poultry and seafood.

Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces and utensils after contact with raw meat or poultry.

Wash hands before handling food and between handling different food items.

Prevent contact of cooked foods with raw foods (i.e., raw meat, and poultry).

Clean and sanitise all utensils, equipment and surfaces (cutting boards, work counters) before and after each use. Use hot water and detergent to clean, then rinse with hot water. Sanitise food contact surfaces with a sanitising solution.

Avoid preparing food for others while you have symptoms and for 48 hours after you recover.

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