Current paper mulberry pollen counts are expected to remain uncomfortably high till early April, and then gradually start to decline. Subject to temperature and rainfall in April, pollen may continue to affect patients until the third week or end of April this year.
Talking to this scribe here on Friday, allergy and asthma specialist Dr. Osman Yusuf shared this bit of information with ‘The News,’ alongside several other interesting facts related to climate change and its implications for allergy patients, sudden rise in influenza infections, and a host of other issues.
With reference to weather change, Dr. Osman said, “The frost levels in winter have increased in the north, and even southern Punjab is experiencing colder temperatures in winter. This, along with delayed winter rains, makes plants produce more pollen in a shorter time, resulting in a shorter but more intense spring season. He said, this is a harbinger of the fact that summer will also be shorter, very intense, and then followed by delayed but very heavy rains towards the end of August.”
In the last two years, the permission of Umrah during Rabi-ul-Awwal has also promoted religious tourism from Pakistan. A large number of Pakistanis now go for Umrah from Rabi-ul-Awwal until Ramazan, and in the last 10 days of Ramazan, there are more Pakistanis visiting Makkah and Madinah Munawwara than during Haj.
“These pilgrims are not properly vaccinated and bring large numbers of influenza and other respiratory viruses to Pakistan, with the result that influenza infections like swine flu are very common in Pakistan this year,” said Dr. Osman. He feared that there will be mini-epidemics of flu virus just after Ramazan when a large number of people return from the holy land after Eid.
Patients who have suffered from a flu virus infection will be more susceptible to attacks of pollen allergy and asthma, since their airways are more sensitive. “The virus influenza vaccines commonly available in the market are relatively less effective than the subunit viral vaccines, which are more difficult to obtain. Again, indigenous research has shown that subunit vaccine is effective if given in two doses spaced one month apart, before the winter season,” Dr. Osman informed. He said the benefits of 2 doses of whole virus vaccine on the Pakistani population are yet to be studied.
Coming back to pollen allergy, he said Islamabad has been in the grip of allergy caused by increasing quantities of pollen from paper mulberry trees. The classic symptoms of respiratory allergy include irritation in the nose, followed by nasal watering and sneezing, blocked nose, and often a drip into the throat. However, if the severity of allergy increases, it may be accompanied by coughing, difficulty in breathing, wheezing, and even severe asthmatic attacks.
This is the second consecutive year that paper mulberry trees are causing high pollen counts in areas away from the main sectors of Islamabad. Hence, patients living in places like Bani Gala, Humak, Soan Gardens, Police Foundation, and other residential societies along the Islamabad Highway are also experiencing increasing symptoms this year. Paper mulberry pollens are also causing misery to patients in Attock, Hayatabad township of Peshawar, Hasan Abdal and Haripur, Sialkot, and certain areas of Rawalpindi.
Another new problem which is affecting the residents of Islamabad is the increasing number of the common ‘baby flower’ (partheium) bushes. This weed, which is commonly used in making bouquets, not only gives out allergy causing pollen, but has toxic chemicals in its leaves and shoots as well. This starts affecting patients mainly from end-April until mid to late summer. The allergy caused by the local ‘bhang’ weeds (cannabis sativa) affects sensitive residents from early July until September.
“Patients are generally advised to start their preventative treatment well before the pollen allergy season, preferably by end-February, so that they are comfortable during the season. The treatment should continue well after the pollen counts have subsided below 5,000, to prevent worsening of pollen allergy in future years,” Dr. Osman advised.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department has forecast heavy rain tonight (March 23) and lighter rain tomorrow. Rain causes increase in humidity, which further aggravates pollen asthma. Contrary to popular belief, rain does not decrease pollen allergy but actually worsens it if it occurs during an already high pollen season.
In a judgment on a petition filed in the Islamabad High Court on May 11, 2009, Chief Justice of IHC Justice Mohammad Amjad Iqbal Qureshi had ordered the CDA to eliminate these dangerous trees. However, to date, no significant measures have been taken in this regard.
NOTE: Patients can check daily pollen counts as well as weather forecast for every major city of Pakistan on the Pakistan Meteorological Department’s website (www.pmd.gov.pk) and can get allergy and asthma prevention guidelines and information from (www.allergypakistan.com).