MONDAY, June 29, 2020 — Wildfire smoke has an almost immediate harmful effect on the heart and lungs, researchers say.
Using data from wildfire seasons between 2010 and 2015 in British Columbia, Canada, the researchers linked exposure to elevated levels of fine particles in smoke with ambulance dispatches for heart and lung conditions. Dispatches rose within an hour of exposure to wildfire smoke, the investigators found.
In addition, the findings showed that among people with diabetes, the risk of health issues rose within 48 hours of smoke exposure.
The study included more than 670,000 ambulance dispatch calls from more than 500,000 people. The report was published June 24 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
“We have long known about the harmful health effects of wildfire smoke,” said lead author Jiayun Angela Yao, who did the study as part of her doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver.
“But it’s alarming to see just how quickly fine particulate matter seems to affect the respiratory and cardiovascular system. And the acute effects for people with diabetes is relatively new to us,” she added in a university news release.
Particulate matter consists of tiny pieces of dust, dirt and smoke in the air. Larger particles can irritate the eyes and throat, while fine particles can travel deep into the lungs and even get into the bloodstream, the researchers explained.
The findings are timely because wildfire season is underway, and wildfire smoke can increase the severity of viral infections that affect the heart and lungs, including COVID-19, the study authors noted.
The findings also highlight the need for rapid public health responses to limit exposure to wildfire smoke.
“It is vital that everyone start preparing for wildfire smoke events to ensure that they are ready, especially since COVID-19 is still a serious public health threat,” Yao said. “Anyone with pre-existing heart and lung disease and diabetes is especially vulnerable and should consider purchasing air cleaners, and ensuring that they have adequate supplies of medication at home.”
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Posted: June 2020