Rare Thunderstorm Asthma Hits Australian State of Victoria; Four Dead

Asthma Attack Hits Victoria

A thunderstorm that hit southeastern Australia has triggered a rash of asthma attacks across Melbourne on Monday, killing four people.

CNN reported thousands of people were rushed to hospital with breathing problems in the southern Australian state of Victoria.

Ambulance Victoria received around 1,900 calls. To respond to the spike of emergency demands, the state deployed 60 ambulances as well as police and firefighters.

According to Mick Stephenson, Ambulance Victoria’s executive director, 200 calls came within a span of 15 minutes. That is a call every 4.5 seconds.

Stephenson said, “We essentially had a day’s workload within five hours.”

Asthma attack outbreaks during thunderstorms are not something new. In fact, the events were recognized in the 1980’s and around the globe, including in Napoli, Italy and Atlanta. The largest confirmed episode to date was in London in June 1994.

A woman suffering from an allergy.
A woman suffering from an allergy.

The Victims

The asthma outbreak triggered by the thunderstorms claimed the lives of four people including 20-year-old law student Hope Carnevali who died while waiting for paramedics to arrive. The other one was 35-year-old Apollo Papadopoulos who succumbed to the respiratory attack amid help from the paramedics.

Young Omar Majoulled, 18, died two days before what would have been his high school graduation. A fourth victim, Clarence Leo, was reported dead early Wednesday.

Some are still confined in Melbourne’s intensive care units.

Know The Culprit

Thunderstorm asthma occurs when a storm hits during a period of unusually high rye grass pollen.

Robin Ould, chief executive of the Asthma Foundation of Australia, said “When you have a perfect storm coming together (of) a very high pollen day, high humidity, and a thunderstorm, the grains of rye grass absorb water with the humidity and they break up into thousands of pieces.”

The rye grass pollen usually is trapped by nose hairs and it goes straight to the lungs when it breaks up. Gradually, pollen will irritate the lungs’ bronchial tubes, causing them to become inflamed and filled with mucus and making it hard for people to breathe.

Video thanks to SA Dept. Health.

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