The initiative seeks to raise awareness on the importance of pollen monitoring to better manage conditions like allergic rhinitis, asthma and eczema by obtaining accurate data on the main pollen triggers and when they occur.
“The reason for doing this is multiple. It’s for patients to know what’s in the air – that’s critical.”
The pollen-monitoring campaign has been in place in the Western Cape for 20 years. Peter said other provinces in the country have not been so lucky. Nationally, he said, pollen levels in Gauteng have not been monitored since the 1990s, while cities like Port Elizabeth and Kimberley have never had formal pollen monitoring campaigns in place at all.
Thanks to the campaign, there are now pollen-monitoring devices in seven South African cities: Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Durban, Kimberley, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.
“The reason for doing this is multiple. It’s for patients to know what’s in the air – that’s critical so that a diagnosis, related to these pollens can be made and they can get treated,” he said.
“From a nationwide public health perspective, increasing awareness on the impacts of climate change on air quality [is also important].”
Peter explained that scientists monitor pollen levels on a weekly basis using a spore trap. The trap contains a drum with an air suction device and a wind vane to ensure the trap faces the right direction. Air is sucked into the drum, which contains a rotating clock that’s held together with sticky tape and covered with a Vaseline-type substance to trap the pollen.
“The drum rotates over the course of a week and the pollen is literally sucked in and sticks to the sticky tape,” Peter said.
But that’s the easy part.
Thereafter, removing the strip and analysing its contents under a microscope to identify each individual pollen grain is what is most complex and requires the eyes of trained, expert aerobiologists.
Using a mathematical equation, scientists then calculate the amount of pollen in the air each day to provide the daily counts. This, he explained, needs to be done for each of the seven spore traps nationwide and requires a team at each university.
“Every week we’ll analyse and read what’s been in the air for the past week, and it’s usually predictive of the following week. We’re also working on ways in which to use weather data to better forecast day-to-day pollen.”