Being near the equator, Malaysia does not have four seasons – spring, summer, autumn, winter – and we are fortunate not to have to deal with the cold and flu commonly associated with changes of seasons as well as conditions like seasonal affective disorder.
However, it is not all rainbows in our tropical climate. Generally, the weather in Malaysia is either hot and dry, or wet and rainy, depending on the monsoon seasons and geography. And the weather can change very quickly within the day. Things can also get extreme due to man-made or natural causes, leading to drought, flood or other severe weather phenomena. In fact, we just had to deal with a very bad period of haze in September.
Weather and illnesses
Weather conditions can affect our health and cause illnesses, especially in view of the global climate crisis. On rainy days, we are prone to colds or fevers due to changes in temperature or increased exposure to pathogens. The global climate crisis has also led to increased rainfall, storms and floods, causing a rise in water-borne infectious diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera and leptospirosis.
On the other hand, the rising temperature due to global warming has also resulted in increasing insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. Hot and dry weather, especially during a drought, also causes heat-related illnesses such heat cramps, sun stroke and dehydration. Other illnesses like respiratory infection and dengue may also rise during this time of the year.
Haze is also bad; up to 40% increase in haze-related illnesses, which include upper respiratory tract infection, asthma, conjunctivitis and rashes, was reported during the period of severe haze in September.
Protection against the weather
We cannot control the weather, but we can avoid getting sick by practising these preventive measures in our family:
- Strengthen the immunity
- Keep away from exposure to the elements
- Rainy season: Use an umbrella or raincoat on rainy days and avoid puddles.
- Flood: Keep out of flood waters as best as you can and prohibit your kids from playing in it.
- Haze: Wear face-masks during dusty or hazy days and take note of the Air Pollution Index.
- Hot season: Keep yourself sufficiently hydrated during hot days and avoid being under the sun for too long.
- Bugs: Protect yourself against mosquito and bug bites with insect repellent and mosquito nets, and by wearing long sleeves when you go out.
- Practice proper hygience
- Extra care for the vulnerable
Your immune system protects your body from infections and illnesses. A healthy lifestyle begets a strong immune system and one of the key aspects is nutrition. Research has shown that malnourished individuals (e.g. due to micronutrient deficiencies) are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. A balanced and diverse diet will provide you with all the essential nutrients your body needs, but you can also take multivitamin and mineral supplements, if necessary.
Another major component of our immunity is the gut, which serves as the frontline of our immune system. Probiotics may be beneficial for your gut health. A research conducted by Pusat Perubatan Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 2018 showed that regular consumption of cultured milk drinks containing L. acidophilus and L. paracasei probiotics can potentially improve the immune system. Other aspects of healthy lifestyle – regular exercise, adequate sleep, stress management – also promote a strong immune system and body.
Limit your exposure to the elements of weather by staying indoors and limiting your outdoor activities. When you need to go out, protect yourself:
Ironically, spending more time indoors and in close contact with other people may also facilitate transmission of disease. Hence, that is why proper hygiene practice is important. These include washing your hands before and after preparing or eating food, after using the toilet and after touching pets. Do cover your face when coughing or sneezing with a handkerchief or tissue.
Pay extra attention to your family members who are more vulnerable to weather changes and infection, such as young children, the elderly, and those with health issues like cardiovascular or respiratory problems. Their immune system is weaker than average adults and they need to be taken care of first. Be alert to any signs of deteriorating health.
Most of the time, we are only concerned about the weather if disrupts our daily routine: e.g. how heavy rain can lead to traffic jams. But we tend to overlook how weather can also affect our health, especially the vulnerable ones among our family members.
Weather may not be the direct cause of diseases, but bad weather can be an indirect agent of disease transmission. As the proverb says: thatch your roof before rainy weather!