PEOPLE have been warned to stay indoors and avoid exercise as bushfire smoke hangs over central Victoria.
Bendigo residents woke up to the smell of smoke and dirty-looking cloud overhead on Monday.
The Environment Protection Authority has issued an air quality warning across the state, warning that all regions will be affected by smoke.
The Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed visibility at Bendigo Airport is about 2.5 kilometres. This is just one kilometre above hazardous levels.
On a clear day visibility can be greater than 10 kilometres.
There is little hope of a respite from the smoke for several days.
Bureau forecaster Steven McGibbony said the low visibility in Bendigo was probably partly caused by bushfire smoke, partly by drizzle and low cloud.
Mr McGibbony said smoke over central Victoria came from the East Gippsland fires, as south to south-easterly winds blew it up from over the Bass Strait.
#VicFires - #nswFires. Some people are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke from fires. Especially if you are over 65 or under 14 years, are pregnant or have a heart or lung condition (including asthma). Find out how to protect your health. https://t.co/bABB8R6dEB— VicGovDHHS (@VicGovDHHS) January 5, 2020
The smoke is likely to hang around for the next several days as these winds continued, although levels might fluctuate a bit, Mr McGibbony said.
Bendigo Health respiratory specialist Emma Broadfield said the city was experiencing a significant deterioration in air quality, as the smoke could be seen and smelt.
Dr Broadfield said if you could smell smoke, it could affect people with respiratory conditions.
Common effects were increasing cough, breathlessness, tight-chestedness, tiredness, or feeling unable to do usual activities, she said.
Dr Broadfield said people should try to stay inside, with doors and windows tightly shut, and the airconditioner on recirculate if possible.
She said if anyone had to go out they should keep car windows shut, and airconditioner on recirculate.
Dr Broadfield said even healthy people should avoid exercise if they could smell smoke.
She said anyone experiencing distress should seek medical help.
Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has warned that anyone could experience symptoms from smoke, but particularly at risk were people with heart and lung diseases, diabetes, those under 14 or over 65 and pregnant women.
Dr Sutton said vulnerable groups - and anyone coughing - should minimise their exposure to smoke by staying in a place where smoke was at its lowest levels. He urged asthmatics to be aware of their asthma management plans.
Australian Medical Association President Tony Bartone said health effects of smoke would be proportionate to its density and the length of time a person was exposed.
Dr Bartone said the small particles in smoke could breach the lining of the respiratory tract, allowing particles down into the lower lungs.
He said these could cause inflammation in the airways, or be absorbed into the bloodstream causing inflammation there.
Dr Bartone warned a small group of otherwise healthy people who had never suffered respiratory conditions would develop "significant respiratory concerns" from smoke exposure.
He said there was not yet enough evidence to indicate what the long term effects of smoke would be on people's health.
Dr Bartone said doctors would look at how to prevent smoke exposure in a long term fashion, but needed to address the immediate effect.
Impacts from smoke are being experienced across the state of Victoria today and are expected to last until Thursday. Minimise time spent in smoky conditions where practical.— EPA Victoria (@EPA_Victoria) January 6, 2020
Latest air quality info: https://t.co/r2aZ7XcDmJ
Emergency information and warnings: @vicemergency
"We need to brace ourselves for these unprecedented times," Dr Bartone said.
"The clear message is if you don't need to be out in the smoke, don't be out there."
If you are experiencing wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000).
If you have concerns about your health seek medical advice or call Nurse on Call on 1300 606 024.
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