The thunderstorm asthma outbreak that hit Melbourne, Australia has claimed its sixth victim.
The patient, who had been in critical condition after suffering from medical complications, died in an Eastern Health hospital on Saturday, Nov. 26. Three others are in critical condition while another 12 patients remain in hospitals for less serious respiratory and related conditions.
What Caused The Outbreak
The heavy rains and winds on Monday caused rain-sodden ryegrass pollen grains to disperse over the city. This triggered thousands of pollen allergy asthma attacks as tiny pollen particles penetrate deep into the lungs of the populace causing breathing problems.
The pollen irritates the bronchial tubes causing them to get inflamed and filled with mucus, which made it difficult for people to breathe.
The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy explained that one pollen grain has up to 700 starch granules that are small enough to get into the lower airways in the lungs.
"When it rains or is humid, pollen grains can absorb moisture and burst, releasing hundreds of small allergenic particles that can penetrate deep into the small airways of the lung," ASCIA said.
About a tenth of people in Australia has asthma. Of these, 80 percent suffer from allergies particularly to rye pollen. Melbourne currently has a particularly wet spring season, which causes problem for asthma and hay fever sufferers.
Robin Ould, chief executive of the Asthma Foundation of Australia attributed the outbreak to a combination of factors such as very high pollen day, thunderstorm and high humidity, which caused grains of rye grass to break up into thousands of pieces.
"Normally with rye grass the pollen would be trapped by nose hairs. When it breaks up it goes straight to the lungs," he said.
Outbreak Affected Those Without Prior Asthma Problems
A third of those who suffered from asthma attacks claimed to never had asthma before. According to ASCIA, not everyone who gets thunderstorm asthma has experienced having it before.
Affected individuals normally had severe pollen allergic rhinitis and most have been allergic to rye grass. It is possible that the massive amount of small allergenic particles that were inhaled straight into the lung triggered the attacks.
More than 8,000 people were brought for asthma treatment in hospitals from Monday to Tuesday. Paramedics had to deal with nearly 2,000 emergency calls in five hours on Monday evening when asthma broke out. Ambulances as well as police and firefighters were deployed in response to the emergency.