‘Significant’ rise in doctor visits during 2014 pollution

Public Health England found rise in numbers reporting wheezing, breathlessness and asthma during April and March 2014 events

The number of healthcare visits for wheezing, breathlessness or asthma issues rose ‘significantly’ to as high as 3,500 during two outbreaks of high air pollution last year, according to Public Health England (PHE).

According to real-time monitoring of pollution levels during the two periods by PHE, short-lived “statistically significant” rises in a variety of respiratory conditions were detected, with increased numbers of telephone calls to NHS 111 and visits to GPs for breathing difficulties reported.

Professor ApSimon is co-chair of the Air Pollution Research in London (APRIL) group

Healthcare visits rose during high air pollution levels in the UK last year, the study found

And, the PHE study concludes, this demonstrates the value of ‘real-time syndromic surveillance systems’ — the monitoring of healthcare-seeking behaviour — during an air pollution episode in helping to “explore the impact of poor air quality on community health and in real-time”.

Published in the January 2015 edition of the journal Environmental Research, the study focuses on two periods of widespread high air pollution in the UK last year between March 12-14 and March 29-April 3 2014 (see story), when levels were monitored as high as 10 — ‘very high’ — in parts of the UK on Defra’s daily air quality index.

This was driven by particulate levels (none of ozone, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide were above moderate levels) due to a combination of factors both local and global, with dust coming over from the Saharan dessert

The study states: “Local emissions, combined with transboundary atmospheric transport of dust from the Sahara and emissions from continental Europe, in conjunction with anticyclonic weather conditions led to several days during this period with high to very high levels of particulate air pollution across most of the UK.”

Real-time monitoring of healthcare-seeking behaviour covered 55% of the English population, and assuming the same consultation rates across the whole of England, there were in excess of 1,200 consultations for breathing difficulties during the first air pollution period, and more than 2,300 during the second.

Furthermore, for severe asthma, there were an estimated 100 cases during the first air pollution period and more than 400 cases during the second period.

In part due to visible Saharan dust on windows and cars during the instances of poor air quality, the news garnered a great deal of media interest in the national newspapers.

And, the study notes that some of the increase in health care usage during the second period may have been caused by those patients who may not previously have sought health care advise, but who did so “because of the media coverage”.

Related Links:

Public Health England study


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