The bushfire season in 2019–20 saw fires sweep across Australia on a scale previously unrecorded. Thirty-three people lost their lives, more than 3,000 houses were destroyed, and millions of hectares of land burnt (Parliament of Australia 2020).
This is a data update to the report, Australian bushfires 2019–20: exploring the short-term health impacts. It includes additional information on the short-term health impacts of the 2019–20 bushfires through analysis of admitted patient hospitalisations, emergency department presentations beyond New South Wales, use of bushfire-specific mental health Medicare-subsidised services, and changes in selected physical activities.
There were increases in admitted patient hospitalisations and emergency department presentations for respiratory conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), associated with increased bushfire activity. Changes in hospitalisation rates for cardiovascular conditions, mental health conditions and burns, could be observed at specific times associated with bushfire activity in some locations, although further analysis is required to ascertain the extent to which bushfire and/or smoke were associated with increases in these conditions. Analysis of Medicare Benefits Schedule data also shows increases in mental health service use in some areas, coinciding with, or following, bushfire activity.
Data from physical activity tracking devices revealed a decrease in riding (bicycling), and running, walking, or hiking trips in the Australian Capital Territory, compared with the previous year, in association with air pollution from bushfires.
Understanding the immediate and short-term physical and mental health impacts of bushfires can help to ensure health services are sufficiently equipped to deal with them in any future bushfire event, as well as identifying areas that could benefit from further research.
Parliament of Australia 2020. 2019–20 bushfires—frequently asked questions: a quick guide. Canberra: Parliament of Australia. Viewed 10 March 2020.