Thunderstorms have been recognised to precipitate asthma attacks for over 30 years. Events have been reported from Europe, North America, the Middle East and Australia. Previously, the largest documented outbreak occurred in June 1994, when 640 patients presented to London emergency departments within a 30-h period. This has now been surpassed by the thunderstorm event in Melbourne on 21 November 2016. In excess of 9900 patients presented to hospitals with asthma attacks. Ambulances and emergency services were overwhelmed, as more than 2300 calls flooded the 000 emergency line with almost one call every 4 s. An extra 60 ambulances were deployed but tragic cases occurred with two people dying while waiting for paramedics to arrive, and others suffering hypoxic brain damage and subsequent hospital death. In all, nine deaths have been linked to this episode, making it by far the most lethal event to date.
Notwithstanding the tragedy of the ‘November 21 thunderstorm asthma event’, the huge collective response from the Department of Health and Human Services, Ambulance Victoria paramedics, hospital emergency departments (public and private hospitals accepting public patients), general practitioners, pharmacists, nurses, peak bodies (especially the National Asthma Council and Asthma Australia) and the general public/carers should be acknowledged for tempering its impact. This valiant and impressive team effort should be applauded in the wake of this unprecedented catastrophic event.