October 12, 2022

Northern Health tackles Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma (ETSA) season

Spring is in the air, and so is pollen and thunderstorms. The warmer weather and longer days can also trigger asthma and hay fever allergies. These symptoms include an itchy and runny nose, sneezing, coughing, wheezing and/or chest tightness. Some of these symptoms can become very severe, very quickly, and may require urgent medical assistance.

As we enter the Epidemic Thunderstorm Asthma (ETSA) season from October through to December, Northern Health is taking a proactive approach to ensuring we have the right systems and processes in place to manage an ESTA event.

Jason Amos, Emergency Management reminds staff that, the Code Brown – External Emergency procedure and the Code Brown Subplan – Thunderstorm Asthma procedure are available on prompt to ensure appropriate response to Code Brown/Thunderstorms Asthma events.

“This is a timely reminder for staff to ensure they are aware of our emergency plans for such events,” said Jason.

On 21 November 2016, the state of Victoria witnessed the largest ETSA event ever recorded worldwide, an event that was unprecedented in size, severity and impact. Thousands of people developed breathing difficulties within a short period of time, and for many of them it was their first asthma attack.

ETSA is caused by uncommon combination of high grass pollen levels and a certain type of thunderstorm. There is no universal definition of ETSA event as such, but this includes large numbers of people with sudden onset asthma in temporal and spatial relation to the storm, and large geographical areas affecting multiple health services, with a resultant strain on health and emergency systems.

Epidemiologists recommend that people with current, past or undiagnosed asthma, and those with seasonal allergic rhinitis, have a current asthma action plan to follow (updated by their GP). They should also learn asthma first aid, stay out of storms from October through to December. Further advice during an ESTA event is to stay inside and close your doors and windows and, if you have your air conditioner on, turn it to recirculate.

It is also important for everyone in the community to be able to recognise the symptoms of someone having an asthma attack and to know the four steps of asthma first aid:

Step 1: Sit person suffering the attack upright

Step 2: Shake the blue/grey reliever puffer and give them four separate puffs using a spacer if available

Step 3: Wait four minutes and give four more puffs if the person cannot breathe normally

Step 4: Call an ambulance if they still cannot breathe normally and keep giving reliever puffs as above until an ambulance arrives.

Hayley Grey, Nurse Unit Manager (NUM) VVED, added, “if you are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of asthma, or are unsure of the severity of what you’re experiencing, please contact the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department at https://www.vved.org.au/ for further assistance or visit your GP. It’s essential that we keep our Ambulances and Emergency Departments available for those that are critically ill.

You can access daily forecasts for ETSA events here.