Bushfire smoke fuelled a spike in emergency department visits and demand for medical treatment in the worst-affected regions of Australia’s Black Summer.
A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has examined the short-term health impacts of last summer’s devastating fires which claimed 33 lives.
NSW emergency department presentations for respiratory issues show a clear statewide rise over summer.
The rate peaked in Christmas week, which was eight per cent higher than the same period in 2018.
The week beginning December 15 was up 22 per cent on the corresponding seven-day period from the previous year.
In the NSW Riverina, near where a fire near Batlow burned at emergency level for several days in early January, emergency department presentations shot up 86 per cent.
The capital region – which takes in Canberra, Batemans Bay and extends down the NSW south coast – experienced a 50 per cent increase.
Sales of asthma medications rose between 20 and 80 per cent in the ACT between December 8 and January 18.
In Victoria, prescriptions through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for salbutamol, which is marketed as Ventolin, increased by up to 40 per cent.
Dangerous particle concentration rendered Canberra’s air quality about 100 times the level considered safe during early January.
Pharmacy data shows inhaler sales in the ACT went up 204 per cent on the previous year for the week beginning January 5.
There have been almost 19,000 bushfire-related Medicare-subsidised mental health services accessed by more than 5000 patients since the disaster.
Research conducted at the University of Tasmania research conservatively estimated smoke-related health costs of the bushfire season to be $1.95 billion.
The AIHW report found this figure was nine times higher than the median of the previous 19 bushfire seasons.