State of Disaster Declared – Fire and Air Quality Alerts

A State of Disaster has been declared as significant bushfires are burning across Victoria and impacting communities across the state. The situation is rapidly changing so it’s important to keep checking VicEmergency for updates.

Air quality remains very poor to hazardous across East Gippsland and much of the north east of Victoria. Smoke is now also spreading further across the state.

Hazardous air quality may lead to:

  • serious aggravation of health effects in people over 65, children 14 years and younger, pregnant women and those with existing heart or lung conditions.
  • serious increase in respiratory and other effects in everyone else and many people might have symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath.

In addition to smoke, other hazards include contaminated water and spoiled food which can increase the risk of gastroenteritis.

Who is at risk?

Bushfire smoke can affect anyone but particularly people over 65, children 14 years and younger, pregnant women and those with existing heart or lung conditions, including asthma. Risks from contaminated water and spoiled food will also have a greater impact on the elderly, young children and pregnant women. Contaminated food and water can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Recommendations

Check VicEmergency to be aware of the current fire risk in your area and follow all advice provided.

Stay in touch with Western Victoria Primary Health Network to be aware of any changes to health services in your area (contacts below).

Ensure those with asthma have asthma management plans, medication on hand and that they are activating plans based on symptoms and exposure.

If issuing or recommending facemasks, also provide this information:

  • Ordinary paper dust masks, handkerchiefs or bandannas do not filter out fine particles from bushfire smoke and are generally not very useful in protecting your lungs.
  • ‘P2’ or ‘N95’ masks filter bushfire smoke, providing greater protection against inhaling fine particles.
  • Anyone with a pre-existing heart or lung condition should seek medical advice before using them.
  • If the seal around the face and mouth is poor the mask is much less effective (men should be clean shaven to get a good seal). Masks are generally only effective for four hours or until they become moist.
  • Masks should not be a substitute for avoiding smoke exposure and can provide false reassurance, so ensure that anyone using a mask understand the need to follow all advice regarding smoke.

Be alert to salmonella, campylobacter infections and other gastrointestinal pathogens. Viral pathogens such as norovirus will also be easily spread in areas where people are grouping together, such as shelters, or where access to good hygiene facilities is restricted.

Encourage good hand hygiene and food safety practices for all patients in bushfire affected areas, particularly where disruption to power supplies make it difficult to store food at appropriate temperatures.

Rainwater tanks can be contaminated by debris, ash, dead animals, aerial fire retardants and water-bombing. Bottled water should be used if there are concerns about the quality of the drinking water.

Everyone in an area heavily impacted by smoke, especially those in sensitive groups, should follow advice related to evacuation or temporary relocation.

More information

Contacts

  • For information related to disease outbreaks: DHHS Communicable Disease Prevention and Control section on 1300 651 160 (24 hours).
  • For food safety issues: DHHS Food Safety Unit on 1300 364 352
  • For issues related to environmental public health:
    • DHHS Environmental Health on 1300 761 874.
  • Air quality and smoke: Environment Protection Authority on 1300 372 842
  • Western Victoria PHN contacts (Business Hours): Regional Managers – Ballarat Goldfields 03 5331 6303; Geelong Otway 03 5222 0800; Wimmera Grampians 03 5381 1756; Great South Coast 03 5564 5888 or email: laura.martin@westvicphn.com.au