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Chile’s capital survives driest May in 43 years: respiratory diseases outbreak

Saturday, June 4th 2011 - 06:31 UTC
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Santiago sky grey and cloaked in smog Santiago sky grey and cloaked in smog

As any Santiago de Chile resident could attest, it was all sun and no rain this past May, creating a hazardously dry environment and increasing already worrying levels of pollution.

According to the Meteorological Organization of Chile, last May was officially recorded as the driest since May of 1968, 43 years ago. Unlike “normal” May conditions, which feature around 1.8 inches rainfall, this year it did not rain once all month.

Though Santiago’s skies are grey and cloaked in smog, some experts say the pattern will shift quickly as the La Niña phenomenon enters its so-called neutral phase in June. They predict Santiago will have at least a few episodes of rainfall this month.

Forecasters say indeed that Santiago may receive a tiny amount of rainfall in the coming days and maybe more rainfall in the second week of June. There is a slight chance of rain in the region of Rancagua, south of Santiago, predicted for Sunday and Monday.

Until rain returns to the capital, the quality of the Santiago air grows more and more hazardous to the health of its citizens.

As evidence, the capital issued its second pre-emergency environmental alert of the year last Wednesday, and officials continued to enforce vehicle-use restrictions.

Respiratory illnesses are endemic in Santiago’s population, and in previous weeks there’s been a huge increase in Respiratory Syncytial Virus.

According to Universidad Catolica research analysts, the spread of the human para-influenza viruses, the adenovirus, and increased hospitalizations are also results of the current environmental conditions.

“At this point we’re starting to face problems finding sufficient space for all our patients,” said Leonardo Ristori, head of emergency medicine at Clínica Indisa.

Chilean Education Minister Joaquín Lavín advised Santiago citizens to stay alert to surrounding health threats. “We are now entering an especially risky winter: pre-emergencies, emergencies, bad air quality, syncytial virus. Schools must take every preventative action possible to remain healthy.”

By Andrea Feliz Garcia - The Santiago Times


Categories: Environment, Latin America.

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