Rare thunderstorm asthma kills 4 in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia — Three patients remained critically ill on Thursday, three days after a rare condition known as thunderstorm asthma killed four people and sent hundreds to hospitals in Australia’s second-largest city, an official said.

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Melbourne University botanist Ed Newbigin, who runs Melbourne’s main pollen-counting station, said forecasting such events should be possible.

“Thunderstorms and high pollen levels in the air occur reasonably frequently this time of year, but not all those events result in episodes of thunderstorm asthma,” Newbigin said.

“We can probably figure out what are the requirements for producing thunderstorm asthma and come up with, if not a perfect forecast system, at least a pretty good one,” he said.

The world’s first recorded thunderstorm asthma event occurred in Melbourne in 1987. Similar events have happened in the United States, Canada, Britain and Italy. The last major event in Melbourne was in November 2010.

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