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Australia

Death toll from freak Australian asthma storm rises to 6

A sixth person has died following a "thunderstorm asthma" event in Australia earlier this week. More than 8,500 people were treated at hospitals in Melbourne, with three patients still in critical condition.

A sixth person has died and another three remain in critical condition after a storm in Melbourne caused thousands of pollen asthma attacks earlier this week, the Victoria state government said on Sunday.

"There have now been six deaths that may have occurred as a result of conditions relating to the thunderstorm asthma events on Monday," Victoria's health department spokesman said in a statement. 

"Five patients are continuing to receive specialist ICU [intensive care unit] care in hospitals in Melbourne, with three still in a critical condition."

Another 12 people were being treated for other health problems related to the freak event.

'Like having 150 bombs going off'

More than 8,500 people were treated at hospitals in Melbourne on Monday and Tuesday after heavy rains and winds, combined with a high pollen count, triggered allergic reactions and asthma attacks.

The rare phenomena happens when rye grass pollen breaks into small pieces after getting wet, sending pollen counts to dangerous levels.

Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy said earlier this week the demand for medical services "was like having 150 bombs going off right across a particular part of metropolitan Melbourne."

The government is reviewing how emergency and health services can better respond to such rare events in the future.

cw/cmk (AFP, Reuters)