CSU thunderstorm alert system helps asthmatics

11 DECEMBER 2017

Charles Sturt University (CSU) and local health groups have developed an alert system to help asthmatics manage the risks associated with high pollen counts and thunderstorms in the Riverina.Dr Bruce Graham in the CSU School of Biomedical Sciences said the alert system, which has been operating over the last 10 years, had sent out four alerts during the season that ran from September to December this year.The alert system relies on monitoring airborne pollen levels and information from the Bureau of Meteorology regarding potential thunderstorm activity.“Unfortunately, the pollen count is a labour-intensive manual activity which takes about an hour each day, but hopefully the community benefit makes it worthwhile,” Dr Graham said.“Despite the increased number of alerts this year, data from the Wagga Wagga Hospital admissions for breathing difficulties and asthma attacks was fortunately lower over the Spring thunderstorm asthma season than in previous years, which could indicate the possible impact of the alert system.“People who have joined the Asthma Register that sends out the alerts are sent a text and/or an email alerting them to conditions that may trigger an asthma event so they can take appropriate action.”Thunderstorm activity can whip up the pollens ahead of the rain front, which triggers fragmentation of the pollen grains into smaller particles which can be inspired deeper into the lungs. This can trigger an asthma event even in some individuals who may not normally experience breathing difficulties.Dr Graham said, “This is especially relevant to those moving to live in the region and to visitors who may not have been previously exposed to these pollen allergens in the air.”Users sign up to the alert service via the Asthma Register and are notified by text and/or email message ahead of high risk conditions.CSU is part of the Wagga Asthma and COPD Collaborative of Health Professionals which was created following a major crisis in 1997 when over 300 people attended the hospital outpatient service over 48 hours.The Collaborative also includes representatives from the Murrumbidgee Local Health District, The Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network, the Wagga Rural Referral Hospital, and the Ambulance Service of NSW.Dr Graham worked with the CSU Division of Information Technology several years ago to develop the alert system that now forms part of the University’s emergency management system.

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