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March 31, 2015

Paper mulberry to continue shedding its pollens for few weeks


March 31, 2015

Once again, spring is in the air and flowers are blossoming everywhere. And like every year, the residents of the pollen-allergy capital of the world, Islamabad, are once again suffering due to severe respiratory allergy symptoms. Paper mulberry is expected to continue shedding its pollen for the next few weeks. Thereafter, the pollen grains may still remain in indoor and outdoor dust, and hence patients need to continue practicing their preventative measures and taking their medication until the third week of April, at least.
This piece of advice was given by allergy specialist Dr. Osman Yusuf, while talking to this scribe here on Monday.
Since the last two years, pollen counts of paper mulberry pollens have not been very high, and pollen allergy patients did not suffer much. But the spring of 2015 has once again revived the miseries of previous years, with pollen counts reaching a high of 35,000 grains per cubic metre on March 26. The highest count recorded in 2014 was 30,000.
The symptoms of pollen allergy are the same as those of any other respiratory allergy, but the timing of symptoms is dependent upon the counts of the pollen to which a person is allergic. In Islamabad, the major pollen-causing allergy in spring season in from the paper mulberry tree (from the last week of February till mid-April), followed by the aggressive invasive weed parthenium (May onwards), and then the pollens of common bhang (cannabis sativa) from end-June till end-September. Paper mulberry pollens are the most allergy-causing, and perhaps the only pollen recorded in the world which has caused death due to pollen-induced asthma.
“Patients first start feeling the symptoms of a runny and blocked nose, often with severe irritation and itching inside the nose, eyes, ears and occasionally, the face. As pollen counts begin to rise, the patients start to feel difficulty in breathing and tightness in the chest. Coughing is a common associated feature, since the

patient coughs when he needs oxygen. A whistling sound from the chest heralds the onset of an asthmatic attack,” allergy specialist Dr. Osman Yusuf explained.
These symptoms, Dr. Osman stated, fluctuate in severity in every patient, depending upon their sensitivity to the pollen, as well as daily exposure to pollen at work, school or at home. Several other factors also affect the intensity of illness, the major one being recent exposure to respiratory viral infections, especially the influenza viruses, as well as bacterial chest infection.
“However, 2014 heralded a new problem for the residents of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. That was the fine dust generated from the indiscriminate digging for the metro-bus. In some areas, water at high pressure was pushed into the ground and the mud sucked up, thus saving the effort of digging. This muddy water was allowed to flow onto the roads, streets and open areas. When the water evaporated, it left behind a very fine dust, which caused an increase in respiratory problems throughout 2014,” Dr. Osman pointed out.
Patients who had been exposed to the fine dust suffered more respiratory illness last winter, the allergy specialist stated, and also suffered more severely to pollen this year. “This is similar to the three-fold increase in respiratory allergy when the 7th and 9th Avenues were constructed several years ago, but more severe, and affecting a larger proportion of the population,” he added.
It is highly unfortunate that no remedial measures have thus far been taken or planned by any relevant health authority. The extremely popular and highly successful Free Pollen Allergy Camp which used to be held at the Aabpara Community Centre since over a decade is also not very functional any more. In 2014, the pollen camp was started after the peak of the allergy season and was merely an eye-wash. There was no allergy specialist in the camp last year. Unfortunately such measures are personality-based. The Pollen Allergy Camp was established by Chaudhry Junaid Iqbal, then chief commissioner of Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), and later carried on by Tariq Pirzada, his successor, and Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, director of ICT. Unfortunately, after their retirement, the momentum of the camp was lost.
“In order to address the paper mulberry problem, the residents of Islamabad had approached the Islamabad High Court several years ago, and in May 2009, Justice Mohammad Amjad Iqbal Qureshi had ordered the CDA to remove the allergy-causing trees and replace them with non-allergenic varieties, within a period of three years. 2012 has long since gone, and no further efforts are noticeable. When CDA was under the Ministry of Interior, a concerted effort to identify the male paper mulberry trees (which produce the pollen) was carried out. But later, the staff entrusted with this task was diverted elsewhere and no progress could be attained,” Dr. Osman shared.
Statements by CDA to the effect that trees are being removed are contrary to the increasing suffering of pollen allergy patients. Removal of a few hundred or a few thousand trees is of no consequence, since a massive and aggressive campaign is required in which not only should the male paper mulberry trees be removed right from the roots, but also replaced by indigenous, non-allergenic varieties.
In addition to causing allergy, the broad leaves of the paper mulberry tree facilitate subsoil water evaporation and help in reducing the subsoil water table. Also, being an invasive plant which gives off various damaging acids, it actually damages neighbouring plants. Paper mulberry has been categorized as an invasive weed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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