Final thunderstorm asthma review needs to be broader


By Mardi Chapman

4 May 2017

The final report on the emergency response to the unprecedented thunderstorm asthma event that affected thousands of people in Victoria last year demonstrates commitment to preventing similar events but needs to be broader, an expert says.

The review of the response to the event by Victoria’s Inspector-General for Emergency Management, has made 16 recommendations to reduce the risk of a similar event occurring.

The recommendations include improved forecasting of thunderstorm asthma risk, strengthening communications between services, and a larger role for primary care providers especially community pharmacists.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has also released an assessment of the health impacts of the November 2016 event.

Respiratory physician Professor Guy Marks said the reports were ‘sensible and well grounded’ and demonstrated commitment to helping prevent similar events.

However Professor Marks, who leads the Respiratory and Environmental Epidemiology group at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, said the response needed to be broader.

“It’s not just about thunderstorm asthma but protecting people from a range of respiratory threats. This is also about air pollution, smoke, dust storms, influenza, SARS, tuberculosis – a whole range of respiratory threats.”

Professor Marks said emergency services were well configured to deal with single, discrete events but the nature of thunderstorm asthma had been a wake up call regarding our capacity to respond to more widespread threats.

He said there were only minutes to respond to non-infective airborne emergencies.

While there was a lot of interest in predicting thunderstorm outflows and providing

public information, advice and warnings during peak pollen season, he said there were still gaps in our knowledge about the combination of factors that contributed to such a catastrophic event.

Health professionals should ensure their patients with hayfever and asthma were aware of their triggers and prepared for any future events.

“There is some evidence that inhaled corticosteroids can prevent these allergen induced responses. However it is difficult to prevent in people who wheeze and sneeze but have not been identified as having asthma,” he said.

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