Rapid Applied Research Translation 

Successful Grants & Fellowships

Prof Jo Douglass

MACH Partners: Austin Health, Melbourne Health, Northern Health, University of Melbourne,

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Western Health

Project titleMelbourne Thunderstorm Epidemic of Asthma: Solving the puzzle

Summary: In 2016, Melbourne suffered an asthma epidemic resulting the activation of disaster codes, overwhelmed emergency services and the deaths of 10 people. To be better prepared for the reoccurrence of such an epidemic, this project determines and monitors those at risk, tracks how air quality impacts them, and extends our ability to provide pollen warnings across additional states in Australia. This study will enable Government and health professionals to provide evidence-based, targeted advice to people with grass pollen allergy on the risks of thunderstorm asthma and to invest in evidence-based treatment and warning systems to avert a repeat of this disaster.

About Prof Douglass' Research Project

What is the problem you're trying to solve? 

In 2016, Melbourne suffered an asthma epidemic that led to the activation of disaster codes. Emergency services were overwhelmed and 10 people died, mostly in Melbourne’s Western suburbs. Currently there is no reason to believe this will not occur again. To be prepared we need to understand what puts certain people at risk, develop treatments and build an early warning system.

About this research translation project 

This project has several aims: (a) to determine who is most at risk, (b) to monitor those at risk and track how air quality impacts them, and (c) to extend our ability to provide pollen warnings across additional states in Australia.


a) A Victoria wide telephone survey has already been completed which confirmed that people with pre-existing asthma have increased risk, as do those born overseas. This work has been used to advise guidelines issued by the Victorian DHHS to provide treatment recommendations for clinicians and patients at risk.


b) The TAISAR study: (Thunderstorm Asthma in Severe Allergic Rhinitis) – A group of 6 hospitals across Victoria have been recruiting patients into a study that collects medical data on affected patients and is establishing a biobank for future research. This study will utilise a smartphone app that will collect environmental data so we can connect this to asthma attacks in the patient group for the first time.

c) Australia needs a national pollen counting capability. This project will extend the existing pollen counting systems in Victoria, NSW, QLD and Tasmania into all other states – in particular SA and WA will have publically available pollen data for the first time this coming pollen season. 

The Impacts

To enable government and health professionals to provide evidence-based, targeted advice to people with grass pollen allergy on the risks of thunderstorm asthma, this project has:

1) Provided new information for Victoria’s emergency care planning by defining patient risk factors for urgent hospital admission with thunderstorm asthma

2) Enabled a national pollen counting regime through the establishment of the of the South Australian and the Western Australian Pollen Counts; 


3) Changed policy in Victoria on biobanking for future research in this and other causes of sudden death (for example by securing permission to include material from deceased patients)

Publications associated with the project:
1. Lachapelle P, Harun N-S, Douglass JA.  Thunderstorm asthma in Melbourne. The Canadian Respiratory Journal. (In press, Feb 2020)


2. Harun NS, Lachapelle P, Douglass J. Thunderstorm asthma: what we know so far.  J Allergy & Asthma 2019: 12: 101-108


3. Hew M, Lee J, Susanto NH, Prasad S, Bardin PG, Barnes S, Ruane L, Southcott AM, Gillman A, Young A, Rangamuwa K, O'Hehir RE, McDonald C, Sutherland M, Conron M, Matthews S, Harun NS, Lachapelle P, Douglass JA, Irving L, Langton D, Mann J, Erbas B, Thien F. The 2016 Melbourne thunderstorm asthma epidemic: Risk factors for severe attacks requiring hospital admission. Allergy. 2019 Jan;74(1):122-130. doi: 10.1111/all.13609. Epub 2018 Oct 11. PubMed PMID: 30243030.

Download this project summary:

For more information on this project, please contact the MACH office:

(03) 8344 9973



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