Expert panel tackle thunderstorm asthma prevention

15 December 2016

With the recent tragic thunderstorm asthma events in Melbourne earlier this month - policymakers, health professionals and academics gathered at ANU to examine research and policy priorities needed to ensure preparedness for future events.

“The deaths of eight Victorians linked to thunderstorm asthma demonstrates that the time is ripe to mobilise in this space,” said Dr Liz Hanna of ANU College of Medicine, Biology & Environment.

Professor Simon Haberle from the ANU School of Culture, History & Language and the Canberra Pollen monitoring program said it’s crucial to plan ahead, particularly in the ACT where pollen levels can be high.

“There are two key factors which demonstrate strong potential for thunderstorm asthma in the ACT. It has the highest rate of allergic rhinitis in Australia affecting 1 in 5 people and furthermore, thunderstorm asthma events have been recorded in the ACT at least 3 times in the last 7 years,” said Professor Haberle.

Palaeoecologist and Research Fellow, Dr Janelle Stevenson said there is nothing new about the thunderstorm asthma phenomenon but comprehensive data and coordinated, consistent planning could be improved.

“What is needed most is an integrated approach between different sectors – and that’s why we’ve met, so we can develop a cross-institutional network to learn and work with each other.”

“One of the challenges with this phenomenon is that many thunderstorm asthma sufferers have never actually had an asthma attack before... but they often have hay fever linked to common grass pollen, so messaging and targeting the right people will be important” said Dr Stevenson.

A first step for the Network will be to share health and environmental research and policy expertise that is already in existence from institutions such as Canberra Pollen and ACT Health and Environmental Monitoring.

Another key focus will be developing coordinated prevention messages, a simple step which has the potential to save lives.

“We’ll continue to work together – not just to predict thunderstorm asthma but to tackle it,
 said Professor Haberle”.


Back row L-R: Ben Keaney (ANU), Simon Haberle (ANU), Ian Fox (Population Health Protection and Prevention, ACT Health), Perry Wiles (Bureau of Meteorology), Ed Newbigin (Uni of Melbourne), Liz Hanna (ANU), Stacy Leavens (Asthma Foundation ACT), Aparna Lal (ANU), Fay Johnston (Menzies Institute/Uni Tasmania).

Front row L-R: Janelle Stevenson (ANU), Bridget O'Connor (Epidemiology Section, ACT Health), Louise Feerbain (Epidemiology Section, ACT Health), Vanessa Johnson (Population Health Protection and Prevention, ACT Health). Absent: Matt Luther (Calvary Hospital).




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