Just last week, Melbourne was hit with a freak “thunderstorm asthma” where more than 2,000 people suffered breathing problems. After a fourth death was attributed to the “thunderstorm asthma”, the public started to take the health risk seriously. The death toll has risen to eight. And while many thought that the problem was isolated to Melbourne, many others around the country have reported breathing difficulties associated with thunderstorms. Latest, the Bureau of Meteorology has warned the public that Queensland could be worst affected, with severe storm warnings also in place for NSW and Victoria, where there are grave fears of a repeat of the “thunderstorm asthma” tragedy.
Victoria’s chief health officer advised asthma sufferers to remain vigilant with lashing winds about to hit the state’s east. Residents may be told to drive critically ill family and friends to hospital rather than wait for an ambulance and get lifesaving treatment too late, reports News.com.au.
“We routinely don’t recommend (to) people that they take critically ill people to hospital themselves (but) this is a different type of emergency,” Ambulance Victoria chief executive Tony Walker told 3AW on Wednesday.
“We’re looking at … giving the community real-time information to enable them to make an informed decision about what they do.”
In Melbourne, paramedics saved “countless lives” during the freak storm, Mr Walker believes that the families of the eight people who died deserve to know changes would be made. One of the latest victims was grandfather Ranjith Peiris, from Roxburgh Park. One person is still in a critical condition in hospital, and has been getting specialist care since the storm on Monday last week.
According to Epworth respiratory physician Michael Sutherland, last week’s thunderstorm asthma event was the most severe ever recorded anywhere in the world. “The previous worst episode was in London in 1994 with 640 cases (and) only five to ICU (intensive care units),” Dr Sutherland told 3AW on Wednesday. Every available ambulance in Melbourne was sent out on calls during the storm. More than 8500 people were admitted to hospital and more than 30 were admitted to intensive care.
Meanwhile, the bureau says the wild weather moving into Brisbane could also batter the Gold Coast, Coolangatta, Ipswich and Caboolture.
The bureau said a large and dangerous storm is now moving through the Boonah and Kooralbyn areas, heading northeast. Damaging winds and large hailstones were likely in Logan and Ipswich areas.
Southern parts of Australia could be hit by fast-moving and potentially deadly grassfires after the wet winter that’s left dangerous fuel loads behind.
Chief health officer Charles Guest has told asthma sufferers to keep their medication close at hand with storms predicted for Gippsland and the state’s northeast in the afternoon.
“Thunderstorms, combined with pollen in the air, can cause an increase in asthma symptoms, hay fever and breathing difficulties,” Professor Guest said in a statement.
The Department of Health and Human Services says Wednesday’s storms are not expected to be another thunderstorm asthma event, but it is an important chance for people prone to asthma or hayfever to make sure they are prepared.