Russian Poplar Menace: Cotton Pollen Leaves 100’s of School Kids Sick

Srinagar: Notwithstanding the divisional administration failing to remove Russian Poplars from Kashmir valley, the dispersal of cotton seed by them is creating havoc with school going children being the worst hit.
Health experts have cautioned people to stay indoors as much as possible, schoolchildren have to spend considerable time outdoors particularly for lunch and other activities, when the cotton-wrapped pollen pesters them the most.
Hundres of schoolchildren have already fallen sick, mostly with complaints of throat infections, cough, irritation in eyes, nose and throat.
Health experts said the cotton- like pollen, which resembles snowfall, easily mixes with food. “When you eat in the open, the pollen obviously mixes with food and makes swallowing of food difficult,” said a medico at GB Panth Hospital, Valley’s sole pediatric hospital.
The doctors said there has been a rise in complaints of flu and diarrhea among schoolchildren, who visited the hospital in the past fortnight. “What we generally observed is that such children had been having lunch outdoors,” said the doctor.
Besides, he said, spending long time for morning assembly and sporting activities at schools were equally responsible for increasing the incidence of infection among the children. 
Children at the Amira Kadal Higher Secondary School here complained that they have to spend around an hour for the morning assembly outdoors, while students and teachers keep sneezing and coughing, with pollen all around. The same holds true for other schools, including government and private institutions, alike.
In May last year, in the wake of health problems being faced by people due to poplar pollen, City’s civic body had asked the educational institutions not to let children take meals outdoors.
The then Health Officer, Dr Rubeena Shaheen had issued “dos and don’ts”,  which included:  “Do try to stay indoors when the pollen count is reported to be high, this is recommended particularly for schoolchildren who are more prone to get allergies.”
Making particular mention of schooling, the Health Officer observed: “They should have their lunch indoors, as cross reaction can occur between some foods and aeroallergens and can exaggerate the allergies.”
The medico said the “dos and don’ts can lessen your exposure to the pollens that trigger allergy symptoms.”
 “Do minimize early morning activity when pollen is usually emitted – between 5-10 AM. Do keep your car or bus windows closed when traveling. Do take medications prescribed by your doctor regularly if you are prone to allergy, in the recommended dosage,” official had said.
But this year, there are no takers of the advisory. “We had humbly appealed the school authorities to let our children take lunch in their classrooms, but our humanitarian request went down the drain,” complained a delegation of parents.
Interestingly, many a leading schools here have even failed to remove poplar trees from their compounds. “We have to eat lunch right in the shade of poplar trees as there is no other space to eat,” said a student of a leading English medium school in the City center.
A senior official in the Directorate of School Education Kashmir (DSEK) endorsed the public concerns as “genuine”. “We have a meeting at the directorate today and we will definitely look into the matter,” the Chief Education Officer Srinagar told Kashmir Observer.
Last year the state High Court had directed the divisional administration to get the pollen-spewing poplars chopped down. But people are yet to get respite.


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