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Frequently asked questions

 

  1. How did ambrosia get to Serbia?
  2. What kind of a plant is it?
  3. How to recognize ambrosia?
  4. What is pollen allergy?
  5. How do we know whether a plant is allergy causing?
  6. What does ambrosia pollen cause?
  7. How to diagnose allergies? 
  8. What are the procedures in allergy treatment?
  9. What is recommended for those bothered by ambrosia pollen?
  10. How to measure the quantity of pollen? 
  11. Are there legal regulations regarding the suppression of ambrosia?

 

 

How did ambrosia get to Serbia?

Ambrosia is not a European plant. Ambrosia was brought from America in the transatlantic ships in the 19th century and ever since then it has been expanding slowly but irrepressibly throughout Europe. There is currently more ragweed in Europe than in America. One plant can produce more than a billion grains of pollen which can be expanded with help of the wind to a few square kilometres. A grain of pollen contains germination up to 40 years. Ambrosia primarily inhabits undeveloped and neglected terrain. It first appeared in Serbia in Sremski Karlovci in 1953. There are many types of this weed, but "wormwood" ambrosia is the most common one in Serbia and it has yellowish flowers. On one square meter there are 200, 300, 500 and even up to 700 plants. It is quickly adapted to open terrain, non-agricultural land and almost all crops and plantations.

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What kind of a plant is it?

Ambrosia belongs to a gender of invasive weeds. It is one of the most common and most dangerous allergy causing plants in the world. It is also commonly referred to as neglected land weed, wormwood weed, American weed and pheasant weed. In Hungary it is called neglected land weed. The most typical habitats of this plant are rural, neglected sites, beside roads, railways, on mounds and in neglected yards. As a weed it enters crops, vineyards, orchards and gardens. It appears on fields of corn, soybean and sugar beet. When this invasive type of plant appears once, if no necessary suppression measures are taken, it expands in high speed. This invasive type of plant obstructs the normal vegetation complex which develops around settlements, roads and mounds and with its predominant community complicates the work of the public utility service which maintains public properties and it increases the costs. The entry of this plant into protected natural resource also represents a problem. Usage of ambrosia in pharmaceutical, chemical and other related industries is not well explored yet although there is great potential. For the time being, the most prominent economical effect is in the usage of raw ambrosia pollen in the process of making allergenic extracts. These extracts are used in the formulation of allergenic tests and immunotherapeutic preparations.

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How to recognize ambrosia?

Ambrosia (Ambrosia artemisiifolia L.) is hardy annual type of plant and it grows up to 2 meters in height. In our area it springs in the middle of April. The stem is branched and hairy, 1-1,5 meters tall. The habitats of ambrosia are most commonly neglected construction sites, lands, gardens, untreated agricultural areas, in maize, sunflower, alongside roads, railways, that is, everywhere where there is enough light. You will never find this plant in forests.

The ambrosia stem is of yellowish-greenish colour and it is never really hard. The stem is straight, rectangular in the cross section, branched and thickly covered in hairs.

The first leaves are dark green and hairy on the topside and more pale and hairy at the bottom, frayed around the edges. The leaf surface is feather-like divided, with two pairs of wide egg and lancet-like parts and a big peak; leaf stems are hairy, almost equal with the leaf surface by length. The next leaves are thickly haired, cut, with two oval jagged (almost feather-like divided) side segments and a big three-piece, egg-like hairy peak segment. The fifth and sixth leaf are feather-like cut an as hairy as previous ones.

The flowers are small, grouped into a cluster structure of inflorescence. The male heads are hanging, semi-globular and grouped into complex clusters. There are usually 10-15 flowers inside one male head, they are pale yellow and they produce a large quantity of pollen. Underneath the male heads, in the armpits of the upper leaves female inflorescence develops with a single female flower inside. Flowers are formed at the peaks of the stems and branches they are always yellow and hairless. The bracts of the involucrum of the female inflorescence stay on the fruit shaped like a beak. With this disposition of the flower the certainty of pollination with help of the wind is reduced, therefore the male flowers produce enormous quantities of pollen. One plant produces up to 60,000 extremely resistant seeds annually which can live up to 30 years.

The ambrosia root is very short, spindle-shaped, branched and often compact. It does not run deep in the surface, therefore this plant is capable to take root even in very shallow and compact ground.

In nature the ambrosia is generally not used for food because of its bitter taste. The name of the ambrosia plant (ambrosia) comes from the Greek word "ambrotos"- which means immortal or indestructible which refers to it being hard to suppress as a species.

Ambrosia pollen is shaped like a pellet with tiny spikes on the surface, and inside it contains allergy causing protein structures. The pollen is tiny, separable and transferable plant organ with male genetic material. It possesses good aerodynamic features and it can be carried away to up to 300 kilometres. The quantity of pollen increases during a rainy spring and hot summer, and it decreases if the summer is rainy. It is commonly round or oval shaped. The size of a single pollen grain varies from 2 µm to 250 µm.

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What is pollen allergy?

Pollen allergy is seasonal, in time when there are particles of grass, weed and tree pollen in the air. What is characteristic for pollen allergies is that they occur periodically depending on the season of appearance of certain type of pollen in the air. Pollen concentration in the air also depends on the climate area, the vegetation on a certain terrain... Ambrosia pollen is the most allergenic pollen in our area.

Symptoms of hypersensitivity to ragweed are manifested by sneezing, burning and tearing of the eyes, stuffiness and secretion from the nose which can last the entire season. In addition to these symptoms people who are hypersensitive to pollen can have problems with breathing heavily and they also complain about chest pain and tightness. In that case it is a sign that you have seasonal bronchial asthma cause by an allergy to ambrosia.

People who have problems with allergies have a very sensitive immune system which reacts severely even to the harmless particles (allergens) such as pollen. When an allergic person inhales an allergen and that allergen gets into the bloodstream, the immune system reacts and an allergy reaction occurs. Due to the stuffiness of the nose, there is a decrease or even the loss of sense of smell. Dark circles around the eyes may appear due to the increased blood flow. These patients are usually irritable, exhausted and have a lack of concentration, which decreases their work capacity, burdens the patient's surrounding and makes usual communication difficult.

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How do we know whether a plant is allergy causing?

In order for plant to be allergen it has to fulfil at least three conditions:

  • The plant's pollen has to be allergy causing- the structure of the pollen grain needs to contain allergy causing compounds which will, in touch with the mucous membranes, cause an allergic reaction.
  • The plant needs to be pollinated by wind- the plants pollen is carried for kilometres and even for hundreds of kilometres around and is raised up to 2-3 meters because the pollen is dry, very small and light.
  • The plant needs to produce pollen in large quantities- self-pollinated plants which pollinate with the help of the wind are called anemophilous plants, because of the way in which they reproduce they have to produce larger quantities of pollen.

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What does ambrosia pollen cause?

Hay fever is commonly caused by ragweed pollen. A person has a strong sense of itching in the nose, sneezes, up to ten times in a row, and has watery secretion from the nose.

Conjuctivitis can occur on its own or together with the hay fever or airway obstruction. A person feels an itching and burning sensation in the eyes whose mucous membranes are red. Tearing of the eyes is increased and the eyelids can also be swollen.

Atopic asthma is becoming more common especially with children and has a growing number of patients. The symptoms are the most prominent early in the morning when heavy respiration seizures occur during which the patient finds is hard to breathe air out and does it with visible effort. Breathing in is short and noisy, breathing out is extended and you can often hear wheezing in the chest. The respiratory attack usually ends with cough and coughing up scarce sputum.

Allergic dermatitis is manifested by itching of the skin and redness of the skin, often with blisters.

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How to diagnose allergies?

There are a few ways to diagnose allergies:
A) Skin test
B) Provocation test
C) Blood test

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What are the procedures in allergy treatment?

There are three basic procedures in allergy treatment:
1) Chemotherapy
2) Immunotherapy
3) Alternative techniques

Pollen allergy is not curable, but there are some treatment methods which can reduce the allergic effect, to ease the symptoms, as well as to reduce the use of anti-allergy medicines.

Prevention of allergic diseases can be:

  • Primary - prevention of patient sensitization 
  • Secondary - reduced exposure to certain allergens
  • Tertiary - symptom prevention before the disease manifestation

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What is recommended for those bothered by ambrosia pollen?

Recommendations for those bothered by ambrosia pollen:
To relief the symptoms and to prevent more serious manifestations, it is best to combine prevention with medicines (antihistamines).

Prevention implies:

    • Checking whether there is ragweed in your surroundings,
    • Not to get out of the house in the morning hours, that is when the concentration of pollen is the highest,
    • To follow bio-forecasts regularly,
    • To keep windows on your home and your car closed in order to prevent the pollen from getting into your home or car,
    • To stay at home if the weather is windy (small particles of pollen are easily and in high speed transmitted with the help of the wind),
    • To shower and to wash your hair every night (that is how you wash the pollen off your body and hair) and to wash your hands frequently,
    • To change your clothes frequently (in this way you remove the pollen from your clothes),
    • Not to dry your laundry in your yard or on the terrace (to prevent the pollen from settle down on the laundry because wet laundry collects pollen),
    • To vacuum and to clean the floors in your home (vacuuming and cleaning collects and removes pollen),
    • To avoid groceries which cause similar allergic reactions, in the case of ragweed those groceries are watermelon, melon, bananas and chamomile,
    • Make sure to wear a mask on your mouth and nose when gardening, and take a shower and change your clothes after gardening,
    • Plan your outdoor activities for late afternoon of evening,
    • When doing outdoor sports activities, do these after the rain, if possible, because the concentration of pollen in the air is the lowest then,
    • Spend your holiday in the time when the concentration of pollen in your area is the highest. Go to the seaside or the mountain to avoid contact with it.

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How to measure the quantity of pollen?

The concentration of allergen pollens in the air in Europe has been measured for over 20 years with the help of the so called pollen "traps". One measuring point covers the territory of about 100 km in diameter depending on the topographic of the terrain and on the trap itself. The level of pollen in Serbia has been measured since 2002 and the traps are installed in Belgrade (two sites), Novi Sad, Subotica, Vrbas, Zrenjanin, Sremska Mitrovica, Pozarevac, Cacak, Krusevac, Kragujevac.

Collecting of the samples is done with the help of automatic pollen "traps" which are usually situated on rooftops of some higher buildings. The sampler sucks the air through a hole in the device which is always facing the direction from where the wind blows. Tiny particles stick to a plastic band which is secured to a drum with a clock mechanism. The drum makes one turn weekly. The bands with the stuck particles are taken off the drum, cut into segments to match 24 h intervals. Preparations are made, then qualitatively and quantitatively analysed with the help of a microscope and determined with the help of a determination key. The results are shown as a number of pollen grains per m3 in a 24 h period.

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Are there legal regulations regarding the suppression of ambrosia?

The European Union does not have a unified legal frame for ambrosia suppression; that is a question left for every individual member to tackle on their own. That is why methods of suppression are diverse. In many European countries serious ambrosia suppression measures are applied and some of them even introduced it to the legal regulations as an obligation. These campaigns started in Hungary ten years ago, posters were printed with the picture of the plant and an explanation of why the plant is so dangerous and how it needs to be pulled out together with the root. The situation is similar in Croatia in the last few years.

Canada has a legal obligation of ambrosia eradication in gardens. The city police have an understanding with the postmen who tell them which gardens have ambrosia. Fines for the owners who do not suppress ambrosia can reach a few thousand dollars. Together with that, the public is being notified through the media very efficiently and on daily basis about which plants are flourishing in order for them to start their anti-allergy treatment in time.

In our country, the issue of ambrosia is regulated only by "Decree on Measures to suppress and destroy weed plant ambrosia-Ambrosia artemisiifolia L. (spp.)" (Official Gazette RS, no. 69/2006). The measures of suppression of ambrosia are determined by this decree in order to stop the damage it does on: agricultural land, forests, construction land and water land surfaces.

According to Article 2 of this Decree, suppression and destruction of ambrosia is done by:

  1. Owners and users of cultivated or not cultivated agricultural land (gardens, fields, orchards, vineyards, meadows, etc.), forests and hunting grounds;
  2. Owners and users of construction land constructed and unconstructed;
  3. Entities operating water ways and channels and surfaces alongside waterways and channels;
  4. Entities maintaining surfaces alongside public roads and railways;
  5. Entities operating parks, national parks, cemeteries and other green surfaces;
  6. Owners and users of neglected surfaces alongside roads, paths as well as leas, neglected land, degraded pastures, neglected parks, cleared spots in the forest, etc.

 

Entities from the Article 2 are obligated to suppress and destroy ambrosia on the stated surfaces during the vegetation season until the beginning of phonological flowering phase by using these measures:

 

  1. Scientific farming methods - land cultivation (ploughing, disking), crop attendance (cultivating, weeding), etc.
  2. Mechanical measures - mowing, plucking, burning of plants, etc.
  3. Chemical measures - herbicides with contact and total action.

 

There is also an Instruction on the application of this Decree, issued by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Supply on 8 September 2006.

  1. According to this instruction, instructions are given to the state authorities and authorized organizations for jobs about protection of plants, local authorities and phytosanitary inspection to conduct the following activities within their jurisdiction:
  2. Authorized organization for work on protection of plants informs the local authorities of the presence of weed plant ambrosia, with a recommendation about the measures, due time and the way of suppressing it on the territory of their jurisdiction. 
  3. When the competent authority of the local authorities (communal inspector) finds out that there is ambrosia in his jurisdictional district, by seeing, by hearing about it from the regional agricultural service, or from the citizens or in any other way, he is obligated to deliver a written notice to the entities from the Article 2, within three days. The entities are informed that they are obligated to destroy ambrosia on the surfaces which they own or use, within 7 days of the receipt of the written notice. 
  4. The competent authority controls whether the suppression has taken place or not after the expiry of the deadline. If the suppression was not conducted on the stated surfaces, the competent authority notifies the phytosanitary inspector without delay.
  5. Phytosanitary inspector delivers a notice to the entity, who did not act upon the notice of the local authorities, that he/she is obligated to destroy ambrosia with a deadline for execution immediately. The decision determines that if the entity does not execute the obligation in due time, the weed suppression will be executed by competent authority and the costs will be borne by the entity.
  6. If the phytosanitary inspector finds out on his own about the presence of ambrosia on some surfaces, he informs the local authorities, and the procedure is continued according to this instruction.

 

The communal inspector regularly informs the chief phytosanitary inspector about the activities of ambrosia suppression, and the phytosanitary inspector submits monthly reports about these activities to the Department of Plant Protection.

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