It’s that time of year again! The water is splashing, the crowds are cheering and there are smiles and giggles as everyone is soaking wet. From the 13th to 15th April, Songkran, the Thai water festival that marks the beginning of the traditional New Year, will take over the country. The festival is celebrated with days off work, family time, trips to the temple, partying and water fights.
Despite all the fun and amusement during the festival, taking extra measures for your health and safety can be important, especially with the health risks that may arise from all the water fights. After all, the last thing that you want is contracting some of the common diseases in Thailand during its festive season. The following are some of the diseases and health risk that you should keep an eye out for during Songkran festival:
The risk of food and water contamination increases in any mass gathering. With a festival like Songkran, in which you are exposed to lots of water from unknown sources, this risk increases even more. Hence, keep yourself hydrated with clean water or bottled water from a reputable source and avoid ingesting the splashing water. Food exposed to contaminated water can also be a source of gastrointestinal illnesses. Make sure that the food you consumed is prepared in a hygienic manner. In case of diarrhoea, ask for over the counter oral rehydration solution. If your symptoms worsen, consult your healthcare provider.
The splashing water and change in body temperature can invite cold and flu. Being in close proximity to other people also allows droplet infections to travel easier. Influenza and other respiratory viruses, tuberculosis, measles, mumps, and meningococcal meningitis are some examples of infections transmitted through the respiratory route.
Symptoms of influenza include body aches, chills, cough, fever, headache, runny nose, sore throat, and tiredness. Small children, elderly, pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system are most at risk. Breathing in droplets of contaminated water that contain germs or bacteria may also cause pneumonia. So, take a shower and keep yourself clean once you are done.
Water and sometimes talcum powder that is thrown around during Songkran can also increase the risk of skin infection. Fungal skin infections and allergic reactions are some of the possible adverse effects that may occur. To mitigate this risk, dry yourself up whenever possible. Do not let yourself soak in wet or damp for a prolonged period of time. Clean and dry your body thoroughly once you are indoors.
Besides water-borne infections that can cause gastrointestinal, respiratory or skin infections, eye infections are also reported to occur during Songkran in Thailand. Conjunctivitis or pink eye is commonly found due to polluted water, especially in children. Although it is usually a minor eye infection, sometimes it can develop into a more serious problem. If your eyes feel irritated, wash them with a steady stream of water until symptoms subside. Consult your healthcare provider if symptoms persist. Avoid rubbing your eyes as this may cause further irritation, infection and conjunctivitis.
Despite the cooling effects of the splashing water during the festival, it’s best to keep in mind that Songkran also coincides with scorching April temperatures. Hence the risk of heat-related illnesses is especially high during the festive season of Songkran. These include sunburn or heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or even the life-threatening heat stroke..
Both adults and children can show symptoms of heat exhaustion such as headache, dizziness, excessive sweating, cramps or temperatures of 38°C or above. In case of heat exhaustion, cool down within 30 minutes to avoid heat stroke. Move to a cooler place, lie down with feet slightly raised. Drink plenty of water and cool your skin with cool water, fan and cold packs. Worsening of symptoms may suggest heat stroke and require immediate emergency intervention. Make sure you know how to call an ambulance in Thailand in case you face such a situation.
Road Traffic Accidents
Thailand is known for the second highest road traffic fatality rate in the world. Road accidents and fatalities will also predictably increase during the water festival, mostly due to excessive and/or drunk driving. Last year (2018), 378 deaths occurred during Songkran and 3575 injuries from road accidents alone.
It’s best to avoid driving a motorbike during the water festival as the road can be slippery. You should also avoid excessive drinking before taking part in traffic. As pedestrians are regularly hit by vehicles during Songkran, be careful when crossing the road or while standing at intersections.
Read our ultimate guide to health insurance in Thailand to help you equip yourself with the right insurance plan in the case of any unexpected medical calamity. On a personal level, take precautions with your personal hygiene and safety during Songkran. You’ll never know when something so fun and harmless can make you end up sick!