The world constantly faces climatic situations, caused by natural phenomena, some with health implications, others with only structural effects.
Sahara Dust or “Sahara Air Layer” is a very dry and dust-laden air mass that forms in the Sahara Desert in late spring, summer and early fall and moves usually to the North Atlantic Ocean every 3-5 days. This layer can extend vertically between 1,500 to 6,000 m (5,000 to 20,000 ft) high in the troposphere and is associated with large amounts of very dry and dust-laden air (50% less humidity than a typical tropical sounding) and strong winds. (25-55 mph or 10-25m / s)
These strong or jet winds are usually between 6,500-14,500 feet (2000-4500m) high in the central and western parts of the North Atlantic Ocean and at a depth of 1-2 miles (1.6-3.2 km)
Dust from the Sahara can have a significant negative effect on the intensity of tropical cyclones and their formation. The dry air from this can weaken the tropical cyclone by suppressing the storm’s updrafts, and the horizontal winds carried by these winds significantly change the wind shear in the storm environment.
The effect of dust from the Sahara on the intensity of the tropical cyclone is still not very well understood, although some studies suggest that it may have an impact on cloud formation.
Dust from the Sahara can cover an area equivalent to the continent of the USA. These masses have been traced west to the Caribbean Sea, Central America, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Health implications of Sahara dust
The particles are between 2.5 and 10 microns in size, which are respirable particles. Then they can enter through the nose and mouth at the time of breathing and lodge in the trachea, in the bronchi or reach even in smaller size the 2.5 to the terminals, the bronchi and the alveoli in the lungs.
Dust clouds often affect people who already have chronic respiratory diseases, such as chronic asthma, emphysema, or bronchitis, which are part of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that the danger of this phenomenon “lies in the content of bacteria, viruses, spores, iron, mercury and pesticides in the dust.”
And it is that when the winds of the desert of Africa raise sand, they collect pollutants when passing through deforested areas of the region, mainly the sub-Saharan countries.
“These storms when they manage to concentrate and reach populated areas of Europe and America, can cause the appearance of allergies and asthmatic crises in many people”, explains the WHO.
People with respiratory problems or immunosuppression, who in turn are the most vulnerable to COVID-19, are usually the most affected.
“Many times there are cases of persistent flu or allergies with no apparent cause that may have been caused by contact with particles of biological origin present in these mists”, indicates the WHO
Recommendations to the Sahara Air Layer
Ideally, avoid prolonged exposure to Saharan dust, so the general recommendation is to stay home when these clouds are present.
It is recommended to use face shields such as masks or a damp cloth that completely covers the nose and mouth.
If you have the sensation of foreign bodies in your eyes, wash with plenty of water. It is preferable to use potable, boiled or chlorinated water. Wash your hands before starting the procedure.
It is also important to cover water sources (wells, containers or ponds) to avoid contamination
Which countries will be affected by the dust of the Sahara?
The gigantic layer of dust from the Sahara reaches several countries in Latin America. So far the effects of this dust storm have been registered in Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico. Cuba and Costa Rica are also among the countries that are affected by the presence of this layer of dust.
This dust phenomenon is darkening the skies in the Caribbean and will soon spread to the US.
Although the dust of the Sahara does not represent such a threat to our health compared to the new coronavirus, we must take into account the recommendations that the authorities consider pertinent so as not to be affected by the diseases caused by this layer of dust.