The weather is typically very hot during the Songkran period so the water festival is seen by many as a cooling relief from the heat of the summer. In the old days, people respectfully sprinkled small amounts of water on others during the day time. Nowadays, they splash water excessively day and night, resulting in frequent changes in body temperature, especially when the water has been chilled with blocks of ice. During the Songkran water festival, getting wet for 3–4 days and travelling around to take part in the water splashing in various places for extended periods of time can make people fall sick, especially children with immature immune systems. Breathing in droplets of contaminated water which contain germs or bacteria might also cause pneumonia. The predominant diseases that may be encountered from splashing water are as follows:
Cold and Flu are commonly found during the Songkran water festival due to frequent changes in body temperature from hot to cold, especially when ice-cold water is used. When children become sick, it is important for them to stop playing with water because the disease may worsen and the children may end up getting influenza or even pneumonia. Parents should observe the symptoms carefully. In case of complications, such as asthma or high fever, medical attention should be sought immediately.
Respiratory Disease may begin when children catch the common cold after being soaking wet for a long time. The particular concern here is that the children or people with weakened immune systems may become sick from travelling around to splash water in various places over an extended period of time. Even in the summer heat, being soaking wet for an extended period can cause the body’s core temperature to drop significantly. Moreover, breathing in droplets of contaminated water which contain germs or bacteria might cause pneumonia. Young children will have unusually fast breathing after they first exhibit the usual symptoms of flu, cold or bronchitis. If left unattended, respiratory failure may occur, leading to lack of oxygen or infection of the blood, and ultimately death.
Heat stroke can occur in children during the summer, especially infants and young children because their metabolic rate is greater than in adults and their bodies are less effective at regulating body heat. In hot weather, people lose body water through sweating, thereby increasing blood viscosity and salt levels in the body. The body then tries to conserve its supply and produce less urine so as to restore water and salt balance. The body needs water to stay hydrated. Severe dehydration may lead to unconsciousness and death.
Gastrointestinal Disease can be caused by inhaling contaminated water during Songkran, eating uncooked food, or drinking contaminated water, causing diarrhea or dysentery. Parents should ensure that their children consume food and drink which are safe, clean and freshly cooked. Medical attention should be sought straight away when children have diarrhea that does not get better within 1 – 2 days and when the children exhibit symptoms of severe dehydration such as tearless crying, lack of urine, lethargy, loss of appetite, high fever, and shaking chills.
Skin Disease can be caused from contaminated talcum powder, water, and clothes that have been wet for a long period of time. Fungal skin infections and allergic reactions such as rashes will appear.
Conjunctivitis is commonly found during Songkran and is caused by having polluted water splashed into the eyes and then rubbing the eyes, thereby increasing the risk of eye infection. Similarly, when talcum powder is rubbed into the eyes without being cleaned or rinsed afterwards, any powder that remains stuck in the eyes will develop irritation, infection and conjunctivitis.
Parents should be aware of the diseases and risks that are common during the Songkran festival, and look after their children accordingly. After splashing and playing with water during Songkran, maintaining personal cleanliness is the primary concern. Children should not splash water and remain wet for several hours at a time, and after finishing, their body and hair should be cleaned and dried thoroughly. Following this simple advice will help prevent respiratory disease and skin infections. People with weakened immune systems should avoid joining in the water activities or going to crowded places.
M.D, Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, 2001.