$1 million response to thunderstorm asthma


By Mardi Chapman

7 Feb 2017

Victoria won’t be caught unawares again by high levels of asthma and respiratory distress associated with thunderstorms and the associated surge in demand for emergency assistance.

In response to the thunderstorm asthma event in Melbourne and Geelong last November, the Victorian Government has pledged $1 million to better understand and help predict the rare phenomenon.

Victoria’s Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Jill Hennessy announced $700,000 for research into thunderstorm asthma and a further $300,000 for new pollen monitoring sites.

“More research and expanded pollen monitoring will make sure we have the best information and science to better predict thunderstorm asthma events ahead of this year’s pollen season,” she said.

A preliminary report on the response to last year’s emergency, that affected thousands of people and has been implicated in nine deaths, has also provided guidance for the future.

The report found that given the rate nature of such events, health and emergency services do not widely recognise thunderstorm asthma as a potential consequence of thunderstorms.

There was therefore no formal or approved system for predicting or warning that the storms could lead to a public health emergency.

The event led to 2,332 emergency calls to Ambulance Victoria between 6pm 21 November and 6am 22 November as well as many additional people self-presenting to hospitals and other healthcare providers.

Many of those affected had no known history of asthma.

“The number of people affected and the severity of the consequences, suggests this thunderstorm asthma event was without international precedent,” the report said.

Worldwide, only one other death has previously been attributed to thunderstorm asthma.

The report found although the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, Ambulance Victoria and relevant hospitals responded to the surge in demand for services, they did not fully activate emergency response plans.

A final report is due by 21 April 2017.

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