We Asked an Expert If the Rain Can Really Make You Sick

In Indonesia, the rainy season can ruin your plans and your health.

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26 October 2017, 10:51am

Illustration by Dini Lestari

There are two kinds of children in Indonesia: those who play outside in the rain and those who have to sit inside and pout because their parents said no.

Unfortunately, I belonged to the second group. There's a general agreement that playing in the rain gets you all kinds of sick here, but there isn't really a clear explanation why. I mean, it's not like I questioned this myth as a child. But still, I feel like I missed out on an important childhood experience. The closest I ever got to this experience was in middle school when it started pouring rain as I was walking home.

As a child, Alby Pratama also couldn't fight his parents every time he wanted to join the other neighborhood kids who were running around in the rain and falling into puddles. "Alby, you'll get sick!" his mom would say. "You'd get all kinds of skin diseases!"

Years later, Alby ended up working as a television reporter and taking long-distance motorbike tours on her days off. He's used to having to report on natural disasters and driving through the rain. So much so that he's often surprised his body is able to withstand such an environment. But it doesn't stop his mom from worrying about his health. Alby said that, even today, whenever the sky gets cloudy, his mom still forbids him from going out.

"I've been riding my motorcycle everywhere since college, even in the rain, and I've never gotten sick because of it," Alby said with a laugh. "If anything, I'm more afraid of the rain bringing my mood down."

So why are Indonesians so sure that the rain causes someone to fall ill? Is there really a difference between the rain and a shower? And what about swimming in a pool? I never heard anyone caution their children about the effects of chlorine. Is there really something especially bad about rain water?

Mahesa Paranadipa from the Indonesian Doctors Association said that he, too, bought into the myth as a child. But really, rain isn't the reason anyone gets sick. A weak immune system is.

"Cold temperatures weaken the immune system," Mahesa told VICE. "Plus, rainwater hits the ground and elevates bacteria and viruses from the ground up into the air. So people will be exposed to them during rain which might cause them to fall ill."

Mahesa also added that playing in the rain is not really a problem as long as you're in a healthy condition.

"Playing in the rain is fine, kids will get exposed to nature, and their body will respond and adapt," Mahesa said. "This will increase their endurance. But don't overdo it since cold weather could have a negative impact on the body."

Alby said that he wants to make sure his future children won't be taught to fear the rain. He's afraid that these kind of myths discourage children from exploring nature and having fun outdoors.

"When I was a kid, the suggestion that rain makes you sick was so strong that it made me feel weak and scared," Alby said. "The rain is not that bad, unless we live in a toxic place like Chernobyl."

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