WDHS supporting Victoria wide thunderstorm asthma project

CLiaison's picture October 5, 2017


Caption: WDHS staff members Julian Gardner and Jordan Frost, with Associate Professor, School of Biosciences at Melbourne University, Ed Newbigin and Research Fellow, University of Tasmania, Air Rater Project, Penny Jones

Western District Health Service (WDHS) is supporting a new pollen monitoring project to help people manage their asthma and hayfever, in response to the deadly thunderstorm asthma epidemic last year.

The Health Service is the first of five new sites across regional Victoria to have a pollen trap installed and staff will manage daily collection, analysis and reporting at the site during grass pollen seasons.

The WDHS pollen monitoring site is part of a Victorian Government initiative to identify the risk of epidemic thunderstorm asthma, using a traffic light scale of green for low, orange for moderate, and red for high – and trigger warnings if required.

Chief Executive, Rohan Fitzgerald says WDHS is very pleased to support this valuable community project that will enable health services, health professionals and department of health and human services to respond quickly and appropriately to epidemic thunderstorm events in the future. 

‘There are over 39,000 asthma related hospitalisations in Australia each year, so we are very excited to be part of this new forecasting system, which supports our vision of creating healthier communities.

The system will alert asthma and hayfever sufferers to high risk days, so they can potentially take action or modify their activities to prevent exposure,’ Mr Fitzgerald said.

Associate Professor, School of Biosciences at Melbourne University, Ed Newbigin says thunderstorms can trigger respiratory problems by causing particles of pollen that are normally too big to enter the airways.

“A high pollen-count day is one with 50 grass pollen grains per cubic metre of air, averaged over 24 hours. Extreme days have 100-plus grass pollen grains per cubic metre of air and on November 21 last year, the pollen count hit 102 grass grains per m3 of air recorded,” Mr Newbigin said.

WDHS was the first of five new regional pollen trap sites and staff recently participated in training conducted by specialists from the University of Melbourne and the University of Tasmania.

Staff will collect and change slides from a roof mounted pollen trap and then stain and mount the slides for viewing under a microscope. They then count the number of grass pollen in each sample and submit the data to the University of Melbourne.

These details are collated and read by a severe weather forecaster from the Bureau of Meteorology, who will rate the information.

To access the pollen forecasts Victorians should download the Vic Emergency App or visit