HealthDay News — Emergency department visits for acute respiratory illness among Medicare beneficiaries significantly increase in the days before major thunderstorms, according to a research letter published online Aug. 10 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Eric Zou, Ph.D., from the University of Oregon in Eugene, and colleagues linked publicly available atmospheric and lightning data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (for all 3,127 continental U.S. counties from 1999 through 2012) with emergency department visits for acute respiratory diagnoses identified through insurance claims and comorbidity data from Medicare fee-for service beneficiaries.
The researchers found identified 22,118,934 respiratory emergency department visits and 822,095 county days with major thunderstorms. Above-baseline emergency department visits peaked the day before major storms, with a mean 1.8 additional visits per million beneficiaries overall, and 6.3 per million for those with asthma, 6.4 per million for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and 9.4 per million for those with asthma and COPD. This corresponded to increases of 1.2, 1.1, 1.2, and 1.2 percent, respectively. During the 14-year study period, in the three or more days surrounding these storms, there were approximately 52,000 additional respiratory emergency department visits.
“Our findings suggest antecedent rises in particulate matter concentration and temperature may be the dominant mechanism of thunderstorm-associated acute respiratory disease in older Americans, which may contribute to strain on the health care system as storm activity increases with rising global temperatures,” the authors write.