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Does Monsoon Mean Sickness? [Expert Column]

  By posted Sep 7th 2012
Healthy Living
Jordyn Steig

Jordyn Steig

In 2010, Jordyn Steig founded Wellistic Wholeness to formalise his work with individuals and groups on fitness and natural healthy living. As a personal fitness trainer, his Wonder Workouts offer a refreshing and fun twist on working out. Since then, he has worked with a wide variety of people to help them find their own unique formula to a balanced, healthy, and physically fit lifestyle. His motto: Designing healthy living, especially for you.

Why do Bombay's residents fall ill so often? After pondering this question over the years, several  scientifically-grounded explanations emerge.

The usual culprits of unbalanced diets, sedentary lifestyles, lack of exercise, stressful lifestyles, combined with living in a generally polluted, unsanitary, and unhealthy environment immediately pop to mind. All of these form a heady and ultimately lethal cocktail which, if not kept in check, weaken our immune systems by endlessly bombarding our entire being, making our bodies constantly struggle to remain well. Living in such a state allows otherwise-harmless bugs we should fight off with great ease to more readily infect us.

But there is much more to it than that, partly physical in nature and partially psychological, pertaining to the very idea behind seasonally-induced illness.

Folk wisdom dictates that certain times of year produce an unusually high incidence of infirmities, such as the present peak of the monsoon season. The idea that weather itself produces illness itself perpetuates cycles of disease. Allow me to explain how this pattern is self-replicating.

The most direct causal relationship of seasonal illness lies in the fact that when our minds believe we are likely to fall ill, presto!, our odds of un-wellness striking us suddenly increase quite a bit. Once infected, we become carriers who may spread germs to others. This serves as yet another clear reminder of the inescapable nexus of the mind/body connection at work.

Still, the absurdly high amount of illness, the agonisingly hard-to-fathom huge number of pills popped and cure-alls injected, and the amazing lack of scientifically-valid comprehension of the causes and cures of un-wellness remains a curiosity to me. The kinds of explanations strewn about in casual conversation display a deep misunderstanding of our own bodies and of how illnesses pass between people.

From our earliest days, a lot of folk wisdom imparted on us to keep us healthy ironically makes it more likely that we become infirm. For example, most of our elders told us from a young age not to go out in the rain and get wet since exposure to water causes sniffles and a sore throat. This folk-(un)wisdom somehow spreads as a virus of its own, all around the world, with absolutely no scientific basis. If wet skin made us sick, then why would we bathe every day thereby unnecessarily exposing ourselves to the risk of un-wellness?

When we apply our minds to some ideas which pass-off as common sense, suddenly the 'sense' part evaporates.

In starkly scientific terms, fevers, sore throats, coughs, and other signs of what we call viral fever can only be transmitted by a virus, usually strains of influenza or the dreaded rhino virus. Period. No matter what you do to yourself, no matter how wet or dry you are, no matter how often you go in and out of the hot and cold air, you cannot fall sick unless the germs which cause fever and cold symptoms are in the physical environment you expose yourself to.

More misguided urban folklore:

Too often I hear people stating that they fall ill when they have to go from air conditioned spaces to the hot outdoors and back again repeatedly. The risk of sickness again is mostly driven by the power of belief, making the likelihood of sickness increase much more than if they were ignorant of that (sick!) notion. What generally causes illness in Bombay is that most air conditioned places lack ventilation systems to send germs outside.

This causes two problems. First, if the air in a room circulates again and again through the room, whatever germs are in the air will reach your vulnerable areas (basically your mouth, nose, and eyes) again and again, thereby increasing your chances of being infected by the germ. The longer you remain in a place rife with germs, the higher your chance of illness.

This vicious cycle also applies to wet and cold bodies, meaning the more your body is spending energy warming your body, the more likely it is the defences in your body will have their guard down when they encounter the dreaded rhino-virus, which causes most common colds.

The psychological aspect of disease appears when people feel a runny nose and sense it as a symptom of an on-coming viral fever. Wrong! Our noses run simply beause the moisture in our nasal passages turns to liquid when the hot air inside meets the cold air outside, leading to condensation in our noses no different than what we see on our car windows when we close them during a rainstorm. Believing a runny nose means you are sick again makes a person think they are sick, again increasing the likelihood the body will surrender to germs and become sick. Then the person is more likely to spread sickness to others. A truly viciouscycle emerges, to all our detriment. Sigh...

The second problematic factor of excessive exposure to air conditioning pertains to our city's humidity, leading to the build-up of mold spores in the filters of our air conditioners, in turn producing a musty air which feels thick and heavy on our lungs and in our sinuses. The more foreign bodies which enter our systems, the more energy we expend combatting them, the more vulnerable we are to the next wave of germs we are exposed to, again immersing us in the vicious cycle of spreading disease more than necessary...

The take-away from sound scientific knowledge regarding avoiding illness remains clear and simple. Don't touch your face. Wash your hands frequently. Most viral illnesses are spread when an infected person touches their face, spreading the germs to their hands, and then we touch the same doorknobs, lift buttons, keyboards, mobile phones, money... any common object which multiple people touch on a regular basis.

*Thumbnail image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images

 

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