Dust can have serious long-term health repercussions, pulmonologist Dr Harris Armeftis told the Cyprus News Agency on Wednesday as he urged the public to avoid going outdoors during dust episodes where possible, and to wear face masks when they do.

He said that people with respiratory and heart issues were particularly vulnerable.

Armeftis said that dust carried from Africa in small, light particles, is ‘enriched’ with other chemical compounds, toxic metals, and micro-organisms on the way, rendering it toxic.

“It has been proven through studies that dust in the atmosphere contains toxic elements. When the microparticles with a small diameter increase, they can easily pass the respiratory system’s filtering mechanism and create health problems, mainly to vulnerable groups of the population,” he said.

Such groups are those with respiratory issues, heart problems and other similar health issues, he added.

When the phenomenon is continuous and increasingly frequent, then it creates problems which are not immediately visible, he warned.

Cyprus has seen more frequent dust episodes – indicatively, levels were high on 20 days in April, with experts attributing the increase to climate change.

He noted that on days when the concentrations of dust are high, visits to the A&E and hospital admissions are up, while studies from abroad indicate there is a relative increase in the number of deaths on days on high dust particles in the atmosphere.

“We could say that it is a dangerous phenomenon because the particles of the dust are toxic and repeated exposure can indirectly cause health problems to vulnerable groups. It has been observed that based on studies that in those countries where there is dust for considerable time, there is an increase in serious incidents and deaths,” he added.

The basic principle is to avoid going outdoors on days with high concentrations of dust. Wearing a mask can be very helpful, he added.

And he said legislation should change especially for vulnerable individuals who work outside on days when dust levels are high.

Asked whether dust only affects vulnerable groups, Armeftis clarified that it can affect anyone. Dust is not ‘innocent’ he warned and vulnerable groups should follow their doctor’s advice.