When the dam levels reach 13.5%, the Cape Town will begin to shut down its reticulation system in residential areas, which essentially means the taps will run dry. Day Zero, currently earmarked for 11 May 2018, has serious ramifications for the city, which has already been declared a disaster area, and its close on 4 million residents.

‘We have been inundated with advice about water saving tips,’ says Gerhard Van Emmenis, Principal Officer of Bonitas Medical Fund, ‘and, as a medical scheme entrusted with taking care of our members wellbeing, we felt compelled to do our bit to help our members and the citizens of Cape Town with advice around health issues during a drought. We have researched the potential health risks in the time of a water crisis and compiled easy to follow guidelines. Even before taps are turned off, when clean drinking water is not readily available there is a high risk of some diseases which we need to anticipate and mitigate.’

The Bonitas medical team outlines the potential health risks when there is a serious drought, some of which can occur when proper hygiene cannot be maintained.

1. An increased incidence of certain infectious diseases

During water shortages, the risk for infectious disease increases when hygiene is not maintained and sanitation is poor. Without the ability to keep clean on a regular basis, the chances of passing diseases from one person to another also increases.

Other infectious diseases result from pathogens contaminating the shallow warm waters that exist during drought conditions.

Some of the diseases that may increase in frequency during water shortages include:

• Gastroenteritis which results in diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Transmission may occur due to eating improperly prepared foods, drinking contaminated water or through close contact with an individual who is infected. Poor personal hygiene and lack of sanitation increase the incidence. Treatment involves getting enough fluids. For mild or moderate cases, drink oral rehydrate but for more severe cases, admission to hospital and intravenous fluids may be needed.
• Hepatitis A can cause nausea, diarrhea and jaundice but it’s not usually serious and most people make a full recovery within a couple of months with no long-term side effects. Hepatitis A can be prevented by vaccination, good hygiene and sanitation.
• Acute respiratory illnesses are also more easily spread from person to person.
• Other infectious disease threats arise when drought leads to the contamination of surface waters and other types of water that are used for recreational purposes.

2. Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. The most common cause of dehydration is severe diarrhea and vomiting. You can usually reverse mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids, but severe dehydration needs immediate medical treatment.

3. Air quality reduction

The dusty, dry conditions and wildfires that may happen during a drought can be harmful. Fire and dry soil and vegetation increase pollen, smoke and fluorocarbons in the air. These substances can irritate the lungs, making chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) worse. This may also increase the risk for acute respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia.

Other drought-related factors affect air quality, including the presence of airborne toxins originating from blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). These toxins can become airborne and have been associated with lung irritation, which may lead to adverse health effects in certain high-risk populations.

4. Implications on the continuity of food supply

Crops may be contaminated as water supply dwindles. Livestock may become malnourished, diseased and die, and/or have to be slaughtered. Groundwater and surface water may also become polluted with viruses, bacteria and protozoa when rainfall decreases. Even private wells pose a higher risk of drought-related infectious diseases.

5. Mental health concerns

As a result of the above, food prices may increase dramatically which could result in economic hardship and possibly malnutrition. People may also experience mental illnesses such as increased anxiety and depression. Members who rely on water supply to earn a living will likely suffer financial hardship during times of drought. Examples include farmers, landscape gardeners, nursery owners, car washes, pool services, gyms and their employees. Such members may also experience mental illnesses as described above.

Here are 10 tips to help you stay healthy ahead of the taps being turned off:

1. Boil water or use water purification tablets for the rain water we are able to capture. However, preferably use this for flushing the toilet, not for drinking.

2. Use Milton to add to water to wash raw veggies – with the listeriosis outbreak as well as the possibility of a Hepatitis A outbreak we can’t afford not to wash our fresh produce!

3. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wet wipes to keep hands clean (and hand cream because that stuff gets pretty harsh after a while!).

4. Bicarb and vinegar are excellent for cleaning especially as it doesn’t destroy water for grey use.

5. Dodgy tummy prep: Rehydrate, probiotics and medicine for stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.
6. Use vinegar in the toilet and drains to help with any odours and bacteria.

7. Clean with micro-fibre cloths or rags as sponges become unsanitary. It’s far easier to clean cloths and hanging them up immediately can delay them smelling. You can also throw rags away. Alternatively wipe down surfaces using wet wipes.

8. Stock up on bottled water exclusively for drinking while water stations are being sorted out. The recommendation is 5 litres a day and to have four days’ worth of fresh water per person. Do not drink non-potable water (gray water). This water should also not be used for cooking.

9. Vaccinate against Hepatitis A if you have never been vaccinated (especially healthcare workers, communal food handlers, patients in long-term care facilities and immune-compromised people.)

10. Mental illnesses such as increased anxiety, depression and even suicide can be managed with the right help.

If you or your family have any of the above symptoms, visit your doctor for an assessment sooner rather than later.

‘We know it is a difficult time for Capetonians,’ says Van Emmenis, ‘it is stressful trying to save as much water as possible while trying to remain healthy through this time. Our advice is be informed and for those at high risk such as infants (less than two years old), the elderly, those immuno- compromised, people in old age homes, nursing homes, hospitals and schools, people with chronic conditions and diseases make sure you are alert to possible health risks as the water shortage continues.’

Article credit : https://www.fanews.co.za/article/healthcare/6