New alert system gives asthma warning

It has been in operation for less than a fortnight but Victoria’s new thunderstorm asthma warning system has already issued an alert for Maryborough and some surrounding districts.

From Sunday through to yesterday, areas in Maryborough, Dunolly, Bealiba, Talbot, Carisbrook, Natte Yallock and Newstead were rated at a ‘moderate’ risk of experiencing a thunderstorm asthma event.

The risk rating was set to be revised to ‘low’ for today.

According to the State Government’s Better Health Website, epidemic thunderstorm asthma is thought to be triggered by a unique combination of high pollen levels and a certain type of thunderstorm, causing a large number of people to develop asthma symptoms over a short period of time.

Grass pollen grains get swept up in the wind and carried for long distances; some can burst open and release tiny particles that are concentrated in the wind gusts that come just before a thunderstorm.

These particles are small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs and can trigger asthma symptoms, making it difficult to breathe.

The asthma events can occur in areas of south east Australia during the grass pollen season from October through December and while they don’t occur every year and are uncommon, they can affect those with asthma or hay fever.

At the start of October, the Andrews State Government’s Minister for Health Jill Hennessy announced that a new thunderstorm asthma monitoring, prediction and alert system was now operational.

The alert system comes as part of the Labor Government’s $15 million investment into Victoria’s thunder- storm asthma response and was delivered in partnership with the Bureau of Meteorology, the University of Melbourne, Deakin University and other research organisations.

The forecasting system considers grass pollen forecasts, weather observations and data including wind changes, temperature, rainfall and grass coverage.

It will then identify the risk of epidemic thunderstorm asthma using a traffic light scale of green for low, orange for moderate, and red for high and will trigger warnings if required.

To support the system the government has expanded pollen data collection sites with new pollen traps in Hamilton, Dookie and Churchill as well as areas closer to Maryborough such as Creswick, Bendigo.

For more on this story see Page 2 of The Advertiser, Tuesday, October 10.

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