A monsoon that has overstayed its welcome and stifling humidity are taking a toll on the respiratory tracts of Calcuttans, leaving half the city sneezing and many others wheezing in the middle of the festive season.
Doctors and virologists say fluctuations in temperature and high humidity even when it is not raining create ideal conditions for viruses, bacteria and funguses to thrive.
The outpatient departments of hospitals and clinics across the city are flooded with patients suffering from respiratory distress, congestion, sore throat, runny nose, headache and mild to low-grade fever.
Monsoon normally retreats from Calcutta on or around October 10 but this year has seen the season extend its stay by an extra week already. The weather office said it could be at least three more days before monsoon withdraws from the city.
“Common monsoon diseases start waning at this time of the year after the rains stop. But this year, due to prolonged rainfall, people are still suffering from common cold and cough and influenza,” critical care expert Subrata Maitra said.
According to virologists, fluctuations in temperature and high humidity have made it worse. “The constant up and down of the mercury is ideal for temperature-sensitive mutants like influenza and para influenza, which attack the respiratory tract. On top of that, adeno and rhinoviruses are active in these conditions,” said Nemai Bhattacharya, microbiologist and head of virology at the School of Tropical Medicine.
The city had an exceptionally damp Puja this year with Cyclone Phailin bringing 156mm of rain in 72 hours between Ashtami and Dashami. Usually, Calcutta receives 157.8mm of rainfall on an average in the entire month of October.
Meteorologists said quick changes in weather from rain to sunny to overcast to rain again and sunny was typical of regions in the outer reach of a cyclone.
Ballygunge resident Somak Chakraborty, 35, is among those whose Puja went damp on Navami. He got drenched on Saturday (Ashtami) and started feeling unwell the same evening.
Low-grade fever and a sore throat over the next four days forced him to skip office on two days.
Doctors say Somak should have had a change of clothing straightaway after getting drenched on Ashtami instead of continuing his pandal-hopping. But even those who didn’t go anywhere because of the rain have had fever, runny nose and body ache.
Abhilasha Bhattacharya, a resident of BE Block in Salt Lake, has had severe lung congestion over the last couple of days. “Most patients coming to us are down with common flu, which affects the upper respiratory tract. In some cases, the virus and bacteria affect the lower respiratory tract, including the lungs, and cause pneumonia. The worst-case scenario is respiratory failure,” said pulmonologist Asok Sengupta.
People with pre-existing diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and bronchiectasis are particularly vulnerable. “They should take adequate protection, including vaccination,” Sengupta said.