Baby Emmanuela held tenaciously to her mother’s hand, urging her to continue fanning her with a hand fan, as its soothing effect finally sent her to sleep.
“Oh God, what sort of heat is this? Will one survive it at all? No hiding place in the day time, and the night is even worse”, lamented Mrs.Ladi Philip, a house wife at Magami, Jalingo, out of despair.
“Chai! This Sun wan roast man pickin alive these days”! Uche, a trader at Road Block, Jalingo, blurted out in frustration, as he tried desperately to cool his body with a magazine he was using as an improvised fan.
These people are not alone in this as their stories reflect the mood of most Tarabans nowadays, as the scorching heat seems to be unleashing hell upon the inhabitants of the earth.
Lately in Taraba and in Nigeria at large, we have been experiencing extended period of extreme heat, often accompanied by high humidity.
Prolonged periods of high temperature and high humidity, can be very dangerous to our health, as when there is extreme heat and humidity, evaporation is slowed and our body has to work very hard to retain a normal temperature. Continuous exposure to this excessive heat, is dangerous and could cause heat-related illnesses which include:
-Heat rash (prickly heat), which occurs when the sweat ducts to the skin become blocked or swell, causing discomfort and itching.
-Heat cramps, which occur in muscles after exercise because sweating causes the body to lose water, salt, and minerals (electrolytes).
-Heat edema (swelling) in the legs and hands, which can occur when you sit or stand for a long time in a hot environment.
-Heat tetany (hyperventilation and heat stress), which is usually caused by short periods of stress in a hot environment.
-Heat syncope (fainting), which occurs from low blood pressure when heat causes the blood vessels to expand (dilate) and body fluids move into the legs because of gravity.
-Heat exhaustion (heat prostration), which generally develops when a person is working or exercising in hot weather and does not drink enough water to replace lost fluids. I
-Heatstroke (sunstroke), which occurs when the body fails to regulate its own temperature and body temperature continues to rise, often to 105°F (40.6°C) or higher. Heatstroke is a medical emergency. Even with immediate treatment, it can be life-threatening or cause serious long-term problems.
Excessive heat has suddenly become a nagging pain for residents of Taraba and elsewhere around the country. The issue of the absence of power supply to many homes is not helping matters. With petrol almost priced out of the reach of the common man, powering the cheapest of generating sets popularly known as ‘I pass my neighbour’ to cushion the effect of the heat has become almost impossible.
To cope with the unbearable heat, most people have resorted to sleeping in open spaces despite the dangers posed by mosquitoes and robbers, as well as bathing many times during the night. For the rich, air conditioned cars and homes offer some sort of relief from the extreme weather condition.
Although anyone at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risks than others.
Suffering more from this extreme heat are pregnant women and children. Pregnant women, especially, are more prone to heat rash, dehydration, heat cramps, birth defects, and heat exhaustion especially during the first trimester.
Also, those likely to come down with heat related ailments include elderly people and those with chronic medical conditions. Ailments like cold, catarrh and conjunctivitis (Apollo) are the common bacteria and viral-related infections which are rampant during hot weather conditions.
For children, like meningitis and measles are usually experienced during dry, hot season. Also, other life threatening illnesses like whooping cough and tuberculosis, among others, threaten the health of children at this time. Dehydration has been identified as another condition which if not treated immediately, could damage organs like liver and kidney.
Other groups likely to suffer also from the heat stress include:
-People who are overweight, due to their tendency to retain more body heat.
-People who overexert during work or exercise may become dehydrated and susceptible to heat sickness.
-People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation, may be affected by extreme heat.
Signs of illness resulting from excessive heat may include headache, dizziness, fainting, confusion, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and rapid breathing.
Even though no actual figure has been provided about heat related deaths, such deaths or related illnesses are preventable.
In June 2002, at least 60 people died of heat stroke caused by intense heat in Maiduguri. The temperature had fluctuated between 55 and 60 degrees Centigrade.
According to statistics, from 1979 to 2003, excessive heat exposure caused about 8,015 deaths in the United States. During this period, it was noted that more people died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.
This extreme weather condition, according to environmental experts, could be blamed on the rapid deforestation and degradation of Nigeria’s rainforest.
And just like climate change proponents have said, the earth is facing serious problems of climate change and global warming, and that climate change has been the greatest challenge of the present time.
According to the South-East Zonal Manager of the Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Mr. Ignatius Nwoko, while warning Nigerians against the health implication of the current heat wave, the hot weather can be attributed to the transition from the dry season to the rainy season.
He also disclosed that the heat would get worse and advised people to stay away from the hot sun as well as avoid engaging in strenuous activities; stressing that humans do not function well when the weather is very hot, therefore Nigerians should always use umbrellas when going out and work less in hot weather.
Experts advise that, people should reduce the amount of time they spend in the sun, stressing that strenuous activities that could result in overexposure to the sun such as sports and gardening must be avoided or done in the early hours of the day when the temperature is coolest.
For the millions of Nigerians that conduct their businesses in the open, the recent extreme weather condition could be very dangerous as it could not only lead to illnesses but in extreme cases death, if not promptly attended to.
Treatment for heat-related illness generally includes moving the individual out of the hot environment, implementing cooling measures as needed, rest, and rehydration.
Prevention of heat-related illness is best accomplished through proper planning and preparation, such as increasing fluid intake, wearing appropriate clothing and sunscreen, remaining in a cool environment, acclimating yourself to the hot environment, and using common sense.
People are advised to drink plenty of water and avoid drinks containing alcohol and caffeine as well as wear loose fitting, light-coloured clothing that cover as much of their skin as possible when in the open.
Other protective measures against the heat, include using protective gadgets such as hats, umbrellas, sunglasses or sunscreen, taking cold baths and leaving the water to dry on the skin as well as staying in an environment that is properly ventilated.
Medical experts have advised that children, especially babies, should be dressed very lightly and not bundled in blankets or heavy clothing. Children with chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma should not be allowed to participate in vigorous exercise in the heat, and should not be left in parked cars or cramped into a bus.
It is advised to try as much as possible to stay out of the heat and humidity by being indoors during the hottest time of the day which is usually mid morning to mid afternoon.
Ensuring good personal hygiene such as bathing at least twice a day to reduce colonisation of the skin by fungi has also been advised. The application of antiseptic powder has been noted to have a cooling effect and also has the ability to protect against bacterial infection.