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Volcano latest: No health concerns

Experience from last year's Icelandic volcano ash cloud leads to prediction of no health problems for the UK
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
erupting volcano

23rd May 2011 - An ash cloud from the Grimsvotn volcano in Iceland, which began erupting on Saturday, is expected to reach the UK by the early hours of tomorrow morning but health officials are not raising concerns.

Last year's volcanic eruption was carefully monitored by the Health Protection Agency and Health Protection Scotland and led to an article published in Eurosurveillance which found no direct evidence of any increase in hospital admissions as a consequence of the eruption.

The Met Office, which runs Europe's Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, is predicting the ash will affect parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland although the amount will depend on the activity of the volcano and weather patterns.

Flights have been affected by the ash cloud - read more about volcano travel problems stress tips.

Risk assessment

Health Protection Scotland (HPS) said in an e-mail that it has no specific information on the health risks posed to Scotland by the recent volcanic activity in Iceland - as yet. Any health risks will depend on the concentration and mineral composition of the ash and the size of the particles in the air.

HPS says data on these issues is awaited but may be made available if Icelandic authorities are able to sample and analyse the ash.

Health fallout

Asthma UK said via e-mail that last year's Icelandic volcano eruption did not lead to a spike in queries to its advice line and it was not aware of any adverse impacts on people with asthma.

HPS also said it had no direct evidence of any increase in hospital admissions as a consequence of last year's eruptions. It says this would have been difficult to detect unless the magnitude of the effect had been very large and obvious, but it wasn't.

Public Health efforts to track possible health impacts in the UK were made by using other data relating to pre-hospital evidence of increased symptom reporting. An article was published in Eurosurveillance summarising the findings.

The health conditions monitored during the volcanic ash cloud last year were:

There were no unusual rises detected throughout the incident.

The Health Protection Agency also says the plume of volcanic ash is not currently a risk to public health in the United Kingdom. It confirms the previous eruption of an Icelandic volcano in April 2010 had no impact on public health in the UK.
The HPA will continue to monitor the plume's movement with the Meteorological Office and others.

This year

Asthma UK says information it's received from the Met Office indicates the scale of the problem this year will not be as widespread as experienced after the eruption last year. Advice has also indicated the ash particles from the Grimsvotn volcano eruption are larger and will fall to the ground quicker.

Erica Evans, Asthma Clinical Lead for Asthma UK, said in an e-mail: "We know that volcanic ash can trigger asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. However, as the ash is very high in the atmosphere it does not pose an immediate problem. Asthma UK advises people with asthma to monitor the news to see if the ash cloud moves closer to the UK.

"People with asthma should make sure they maintain their regular asthma medicine and keep their emergency inhaler on them at all times. If people are concerned about their condition, they can speak to an asthma nurse specialist on our Adviceline on 0800 121 62 44."

The Met Office will give updates on where the ash is likely to be. It could also be visible in the sky as a grey/brown cloud or seen as a thin grey film on objects like cars.

Reviewed on May 23, 2011

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