Winter, particularly when it is bone-chilling, has its attendant ills. When heavy fog envelops the surrounding and does not allow the sun to come out, air pollution is at its worst because the thick fog arrests dust, other particles and harmful gases like carbon dioxide in it. Influenza, cough, common cold, pulmonary bronchitis, pneumonia, other respiratory diseases and even diarrhoea usually spread ominously during the winter. This winter has, according to a report carried in a Bangla contemporary, already witnessed admission of 372,000 patients with cold-related diseases to different hospitals and death to 73 during treatment. Of the total number, 47,962 patients suffered from respiratory problems. There has been an abnormal surge of child patients needing medical attention in hospitals of late---most likely as a consequence of the biting cold sweeping across the country. Many of them are suffering from pneumonia.
Although the number of diarrhoea cases far exceeds the respiratory patients, death from the former has been only six. The high incidence of both types of diseases owes to bacterial contract. Cough and sneeze release droplets from a patient, which do not disappear easily; rather remain suspended in the thick fog and thus infect a healthy person. Similarly, fluids and contaminated surfaces help airborne particles come in contact with pneumonia and diarrhoeal bacteria when the sky is overcast without the sun shining. This explains why different kinds of respiratory diseases break out in an ominous form in the winter. Of such diseases, pneumonia is the deadliest. It is the number one cause of death of children under five years of age not only in Bangladesh but also worldwide. As many as 12,000 children of this age group fall victim to pneumonia in this country and globally the disease claims 700,000 children's lives annually. These figures speak volume for the disease's deadly sweep.
One silver lining in this dire situation is that timely vaccine can develop immunity in children against pneumonia. So, parents should be made aware of inoculating their babies in time. However deadly the disease is, it is preventable with enough parental care. Babies and small children need close attention, particularly in changing diaper or whatever they are covered with, but not all parents or caregivers are particularly mindful of this basic requirement. Then, of course, feeding them nutritious foods count because it is fundamental for developing immunity against cold in early life.
Like children, people in their advanced age also become vulnerable to the winter and the diseases it brings. Both these groups should try to avoid exposure to the known risk factors such as air pollution as much as possible. When the cold waves sweep across the country, it is advisable not to allow children to go out for outdoor games or sports. It is better to stay away from those who are already sick with cold or runny nose. Even in the same house, members of a family suffering from cold have to be kept in isolation. Hygienic practices people have learnt in time of the pandemic should be enough for the purpose. But the message must be driven home in clear terms.