Weather the Storm: The Rainy Season and the Spread of Disease

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By: Jack Resnik

The days are sunny and warm as people flock to the beaches, keen to enjoy the fine weather. In the Altiplano, the Peruvian highlands, however, such a sultry summer is entirely unknown. Here in the mountains where Huancayo is tucked away, there are only two seasons: the rainy and the dry. Both are cold.

I have lived in Huancayo for just over a month, and in that time it has rained every day. I stopped checking the weather report some time ago; today it has rained, tomorrow it will rain, the day after as well, and so on.
Living with such a daily downpour year in and year out, one would not expect the weather to be front page news. But over the past week, Huancayo has been so inundated with water, that the daily diario, Correo, led their Monday edition with news of the storms.
“Fury of Nature!” In the midst of the rainy season, Huancayo’s local paper puts the weather and its effects front and center in their daily edition for January 5, 2015)
┬áThe more than 12 hours of rain that flooded the mountains was extreme, even for this time of year, but the real story lay in the sub-title: “Senamhi [National Weather Service] predicts more rain, while fears emerge of epidemics because of the trash”
The rain and flooding has led to a shocking accumulation of trash; on some streets, nearly every block has its own little mountain of solid waste. The problem is an acute headache for municipal leaders, but the risk to the local population is far worse.
When the sun does appear, however briefly, from behind the clouds, the heat can be intense because of the high altitude. With the intermittent precipitation, the piles of organic waste ferment and become ideal cultures for bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Stray dogs and rats feasting on that contagious waste, are infected and become the link in a dangerous chain that ends with transmission of parasites and other infections to humans, primarily children.
A young child, brought by her mother to the Pilcomayo clinic to be checked for intestinal parasites. Healthyouth volunteers led the parasite campaign at a time when the heavy rainfall significantly enhances chances of infection, especially among children.
The two anti-parasite health campaigns conducted by Healthyouth volunteers in the districts of Chupaca and Pilcomayo are ever more crucial in this season of intense rainfall. In the same week that Correo reported on the risk for infectious epidemics, our volunteers reached over 150 people. While the municipal trash problem still looms large, this work is key to controlling the extremely harmful results of untreated infections. Stay tuned for updates on the results of our campaigns, which will be published here in the coming weeks.
Jack Resnik is the Global Health Fellow and Peru Coordinator for Healthyouth. He is currently living in Huancayo, Peru, working with schools and medical centers to improve adolescent health through education and health campaigns. Interested volunteers should email info@healthyouth.org for more information. Year-round placements available.
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