Chilling cold triggers winter diseases in toddlers

Many parents are struggling to bear cost of treatment for their children

Aslam Mia from Nawabganj was waiting at the corner of the reception at Dhaka Shishu Hospital in Dhaka with a haggard look on his face on Friday. He had been looking for a bed in the Intensive Care Unit for his 28-day-old son Al Amin, who was suffering from a severe cold.

A doctor recommended that Aslam take his son to the ICU when Al Amin’s condition started deteriorating. Aslam needed Tk15,000 as advance payment and Tk6,000 daily for treatment, but he only had Tk4,000 in his pocket.

Nazma Begum from Gazipur had managed an oxygen mask for her three-day-old granddaughter, but the new-born needed an ICU like Al Amin, and none was available.

"She has had a cold since birth, which is why we admitted her to a private hospital in Gazipur first. The situation worsened when she got viral diarrhoea last night,” said Nazma.

Numerous guardians from across the country like Aslam and Nazma have been crowding the outdoor unit of Dhaka Shishu Hospital over the past month, as a recent cold wave has triggered an uptick in pneumonia, viral diarrhoea, and other cold-related diseases among children.  

The Met Office on Monday predicted that the mercury would dip after January 10.

Patients with viral diarrhoea double in number in a month

The number of outdoor patients at the hospital was only 100-120 on an average day in November, but it jumped to around 250 in December, said doctors at the hospital.

The hospital admitted 192 pneumonia patients in November, which increased slightly to 194 in December. However, the number of patients admitted with viral diarrhoea almost doubled from 123 to 240.

Dhaka Shishu Hospital in Dhaka Dhaka TribuneThere was a small silver lining in that the number of dengue patients dropped from 128 in November to just 15 in December.
The hospital has 667 beds in general wards and 47 beds in five intensive care units.

Wearing masks can save lives

An increase in cold-related diseases among children is common in Bangladesh around November. The common cold, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, tonsillitis, asthma, earache, and viral diarrhoea are among the most prevalent diseases.

Although respiratory problems usually outstrip viral diarrhoea, hospital admissions with viral diarrhoea have been higher this time as people have been wearing masks since 2020, Dhaka Shishu Hospital Resident Physician and Assistant Professor Dr Rizwanul Ahsan said.

"We received more patients in 2021 since there was a lockdown across the country in November and December of 2020, so a lot of people couldn't come to Dhaka at that time. People also used telemedicine services more in 2020,” he added.

He emphasized the need to wear masks since it reduced the risk of most respiratory illnesses, not just Covid-19.

Say no to antibiotics

Dr Salahuddin Mahmud, associate professor of the Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Department of Dhaka Shishu Hospital, said treatment for viral diarrhoea needed to start as soon as possible.

“The most common symptoms include sudden onset of vomiting for 24 hours, repeated loose watery stool that looks like rice washing water, and increased dehydration. Fever is sometimes linked to this illness,” he explained.

“Usually, it takes 7-10 days to cure viral diarrhoea unless patients take antibiotics. In our country, antibiotics are given to 9 out of 10 children after they get diarrhoea, but this is wrong. No one needs to take antibiotics for viral diarrhoea; it can be reduced only with zinc syrup and saline,” the doctor added.

Furthermore, he emphasized the need to maintain proper hygiene, eat fresh food, and drink clean water, as the rotavirus, which causes viral diarrhoea, spreads through contaminated food and water.

Dr Salahuddin Mahmud also advised not touching a newborn baby with unclean hands and encouraged rotavirus vaccination between the ages of two and six months.

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