The health effects of dust storms in the Southwest United States

Larrité Reed BS, Kenneth Nugent MD


Blowing dust events are a common feature of life in West Texas and the Southwestern United States and are increasing in frequency. The composition of inhaled air varies from region to region and may include harmful particles, such as particulate matter, bacteria, fungi, and viruses. There are several types of blowing dust events that can be characterized by physical observations, including the source of dust, the direction of the wind, the density of the particulate matter, and several other physical parameters. All blowing dust events have the potential to cause adverse health effects. Inhalation of dust can cause direct respiratory effects that range from transient cough to acute fungal infection to acute respiratory failure. Asian dust storms increase all-cause and respiratory disease emergency room visits and pneumonia admissions. There is an association between meningococcal meningitis and Saharan dust storm intrusions into West Africa. Haboob (Arabic for strong wind) dust storms stir up large amounts of dust from the environment and can blow it into densely populated areas. The “haboob lung syndrome” has been reported in patients from West Texas who presented with dusty sputum, sterile cultures, and multilobar infiltrates. Some of these patients required admission to the hospital for acute respiratory failure and mechanical ventilation. Blowing dust events are a serious public health issue that can be avoided with prevention. Therefore, it is important to forecast blowing dust events and to get this information out to the public on days with an increase in particulate density. The population can benefit from these warnings by simply wearing a respirator mask on these days and by avoiding unnecessary trips outside.

Keywords: dust, wind, dust storms, disease transmission, Coccidioides immitis

Article citation: Reed L, Nugent K. The health effects of dust storms in the Southwest United States. The Southwest Respiratory and Critical Care Chronicles 2018;6(22):42–46.
From: Department of Internal Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Lubbock, TX
Submitted: 10/23/2017
Accepted: 11/18/2017
Reviewer: Jeff Lee PhD
Conflicts of interest: none