Following news that an eighth person, Ranjith Peiris, has died and one remains in intensive care from Melbourne’s thunderstorm asthma epidemic, experts are surveying the fallout from what has quickly become the worst event of its kind in world history.
A number of government inquiries and working groups have already been established, largely into the state’s handling of the outbreak, which saw some people wait an hour for ambulances, and what it can do to prepare for any future events.
And whatever the government findings, the medical and scientific communities have already begun investigating the mysterious epidemic, with some doctors suggesting that medical advice could change for patients who aren’t normally asthmatic but still experience hay-fever.
Respiratory physician and allergist at Epworth Hospital Dr Michael Sutherland described the event as “by far the worst” in global history and said that it could prompt doctors to prescribe more preventative medicines.
Sutherland also said anybody who experienced symptoms such as wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath throughout the storm should be tested for both asthma and allergies, which could open them up to other risks.
On the research end, the state government has announced a working group of health authorities, meteorologists, botanists, and doctors looking into other contributing factors, i.e. fungal spores and pollutants, and setting up a warning system for any future events.
But University of Melbourne botanist Ed Newbigin said that while weather and pollen forecasts can help experts broadly predict the chances of thunderstorm asthma, it’s much harder to say whether an event will be catastrophic:
“We don’t know what it is that causes a major event because in Melbourne we might get thunderstorm asthma events once every four or five years but not all of them are major catastrophic events like the one from Monday.”
“Is it something about the nature of the storm or the type of the storm, or the humidity? Or is it a particular type of wind that is produced by the thunderstorm?”
As the group continues looking into everything from storm data to fungal spores, you can bet the epidemic is going to have some long-lasting scientific and social repercussions.