Among these is the rotovirus that can cause diarrhea, lost work time and significant danger to the very young and very old. The dry season traditionally has been a time of increased infection peaking in March after children return to public school. There are indications that the pattern will be repeated this year.
There also are peaks in the rainy season, in part due to house windows being closed. At Christmas there is another peak when children leave school and are not encouraged to wash their hands regularly. The rainy season also is a time for outbreaks of respiratory illnesses, mainly in children.
Hand washing is the recommended protection against rotoviruses and other pathogens like E. coli, salmonella, shigella and clostridium, according to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, which runs the hospitals.
In fact, the Caja reported that in 2011 diarrhea in youngsters under 10 was cut by 80 percent in Coto Brus with a hand-washing campaign.
The Caja plans a Web chat today with Carlos Jiménez Herrera, a physician at the Hospital Nacional de Niños at 2 p.m. The topic is the increase in diarrhea during the dry season.
Outbreaks of diseases are of major concern to the Caja because hospitals sometimes are flooded with patients, and some have to be admitted.
Diarrhea is the second most frequent reason why Costa Ricans go to local clinics and hospitals, said the Caja. Cases can run to 30,000 or more a month. The Caja said that its frequent hand-washing campaigns have reduced the number of ill Costa Ricans in the last two years. Still there are other routes the bacteria and viruses can follow. Contaminated food or water are high on the list.
In addition to hand washing, the new arrival on the scene, alcohol gel, can provide protection. Dispensers are showing up in many area restaurants, and even some budget sodas are quick to provide squeeze bottles of the anti-bacterial liquid.