There is an increasing body of evidence illustrating the negative health effects of air pollution including increased risk of respiratory, cardiac and other morbid conditions. During March and April 2014 there were two air pollution episodes in England that occurred in close succession. We used national real-time syndromic surveillance systems, including general practitioner (GP) consultations, emergency department attendances, telehealth calls and ambulance dispatch calls to further understand the impact of these short term acute air pollution periods on the health seeking behaviour of the general public. Each air pollution period was comparable with respect to particulate matter concentrations (PM10 and PM2.5), however, the second period was longer in duration (6 days vs 3 days) and meteorologically driven 'Sahara dust' contributed to the pollution. Health surveillance data revealed a greater impact during the second period, with GP consultations, emergency department attendances and telehealth (NHS 111) calls increasing for asthma, wheeze and difficulty breathing indicators, particularly in patients aged 15-64 years. Across regions of England there was good agreement between air quality levels and health care seeking behaviour. The results further demonstrate the acute impact of short term air pollution episodes on public health and also illustrate the potential role of mass media reporting in escalating health care seeking behaviour.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Environmental Change and Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in partnership with Public Health England, and in collaboration with the University of Exeter, University College London, and the Met Office. AJE and GES receive support from the NIHR HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, the Department of Health or Public Health England.
- Air pollution
- Syndromic surveillance