The harmarttan season which is peculiar to West Africa starts in December and ends in February the following year. It is characterised by very dry dusty weather accompanied by easterly or north-easterly wind.
In the sub-Saharan and Saharan parts of West Africa, the dust comes as heavy haze sometimes obliterating visibility. Humidity is very low and the nights as cold as in winter in temperate climates. Heaters could be used at night.
In the coastal areas of West Africa, the season is noted for dusty furniture, some haziness and fairly cold nights.
These notes are meant to sensitize us to the present season in West Africa.
1. Harmattan dust increases risk of respiratory conditions.
Since respiratory diseases are air-borne, being spread in the main by droplets, the incidence is far more during the harmattan season.
The diseases referred to include common cold, sinusitis, tonsillitis, meningitis, pneumonia, measles, whooping cough, diptheria etc. Some other diseases are triggered by the dust particles; these include asthma and allergic rhinitis.
Be aware of the possibility of you or your family member or friend contracting any of these diseases. Apply necessary preventive measures such as vaccination, personal hygiene etc.
2. It could be very cold in the night during harmattan season.
In the far north of Nigeria, it could be as cold as winter in temperate countries at night, warm thermal (warm) clothes to conserve heat; use a heater if you have one and a humidifier. Cover yourself properly in bed when you go to sleep at night.
3. Personal hygiene must be maintained
Personal hygiene is key during harmattan season; do not cough, talk, cough or sneeze directly at any body. Minimise handshakes. Wash your hands with soap and water after handshakes with those who have cold and at the end of a day’s work as soon you get home.
4. Dehydration is common.
The weather is very dry during harmattan season, this could lead to dehydration. Our body is made of 50-70 percent water, not stored water that can be used when we lose excess fluid, so drink plenty of water during the harmattan season to replace lost fluid.
5. The harmattan haze dulls visibility
The harmattan period coincides with the festive period when people travel a lot and like to set out early. Do not leave your home before 6 am, before then, visibility is poor because of harmattan haze. Many people have died because of this, better be late than never.
6. Prevent dust inhalation by handkerchief or mask
Cover your nose with a mask or handkerchief to prevent inhalation of dust; apart from triggering allergy or asthma, the dust most likely contains bacteria.
7. Get vaccinated
If not vaccinated against pneumonia and meningitis, you could go for them. Ditto for measles, whooping cough and diptheria in children. Your doctor will advise you appropriately.