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Six die in asthma attacks linked to thunderstorm in Australia

By Allen Cone   |   Nov. 27, 2016 at 12:59 PM

MELBOURNE, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Six people have died from asthma attacks linked to a thunderstorm in Melbourne during the past week.

Five others remain in intensive care, including three in critical condition, after heavy rains and winds Monday triggered allergy and asthma attacks from pollen in the state of Victoria. Another 12 are receiving hospital treatment for "a variety of respiratory and other related conditions," health authorities said.

The sixth person died Saturday night, Nov. 26.

More than 8,000 people have been treated at hospitals with asthma and hay fever problems since Monday.

Breathing problems can be triggered when rye grass pollen becomes wet, breaks into smaller pieces and enters people's lungs. Melbourne's current spring season has been particularly wet.

"Thunderstorm asthma is a potentially dangerous mix of pollens, weather conditions and rain that can trigger severe asthma symptoms," Asthma Australia said on its website. "People residing in metropolitan, regional and rural areas of Australia can be affected.

About one in 10 people suffer form asthma in Australia, according to Asthma Australia.

The Inspector General for Emergency Management will investigate the cause of deaths and review how emergency services responded and the community was informed.

"It's a matter that warrants proper investigation, as well as our compassion," Health Minister Jill Hennessy said. "We need answers now, in advance of the bushfire season, in addition to the longer-term, independent review."

Opposition health spokeswoman Mary Wooldridge said there had "clearly been a communications failure" when the storms hit.

"This was life and death and there were no alerts to the media, the information was not going out to people," she said.

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