Rare thunderstorm asthma kills six people in Melbourne, Australia

A rare condition, known as thunderstorm asthma, has claimed the lives of six people in Melbourne, Australia. At least five people were on life support after a thunderstorm hit the area Nov. 21, according to the Victoria Department of Health.

A health alert was issued Nov. 22 by the department. Ambulance Victoria and hospital emergency departments have seen a significant increase in patients presenting with respiratory symptoms since the evening of Nov. 21.

According to the department, the main people at risk were from Melbourne and Geelong. At least 12 others were reported hospitalized with less severe symptoms of the condition.

Thunderstorms, combined with a high rye pollen count, are given as the cause of the respiratory problems.

Asthma Foundation founder Robin Ouls said last week, “The data suggests that there were people with hay fever who have not previously experienced asthma symptoms but who were affected. We think this happened because of rye grass pollen. These pollen grains are usually large and can be captured in the nose, but wet and windy conditions can break down pollen grains into very fine allergenic particles that are inhaled into the lungs causing the inflammation that leads to asthma symptoms.”