Wildfires, COVID a Double Whammy to Lung Health

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay reporter

THURSDAY, September 10, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Even as wildfires rage across California, Oregon and Washington, another danger lurks in the eerie orange haze that has enveloped American towns, cities and neighborhoods this week: increased risk of catching COVID -19.

Smoke from wildfires can irritate the lungs and harm the immune system, explained Dr. Cheryl Pirozzi, a pulmonologist at the University of Utah Health. Particulate pollution created by forest fires can also cause inflammation in the body.

“What we know about smoke from wildfires and particulate pollution is that exposure increases the risk of viral respiratory infections,” Pirozzi said in an academic press release.

She noted that forest fires are becoming more frequent and severe due to the hotter and drier conditions caused by climate change.

Pneumonia and bronchiolitis are some of the common respiratory infections caused by particulate pollution.

People with asthma and other lung diseases are more vulnerable to health problems from particulate pollution. And research has shown that air pollution can increase the risk of infection with the novel coronavirus, Pirozzi said.

Not only that, symptoms of COVID-19 may overlap with respiratory symptoms caused by exposure to wildfire smoke, Pirozzi added.

People susceptible to or affected by COVID-19 may have health problems that make them vulnerable to exposure to smoke from wildfires and can lead to more serious illnesses.

“People who have had a more severe infection with COVID-19 could have significant impaired lung function and persistent lung abnormalities,” Pirozzi said.

The long-term effects of COVID-19 are not fully understood, but prolonged respiratory symptoms have been observed in patients.

“There is a wide range in severity of infection from COVID-19,” Pirozzi said. “Many people are debilitated by serious illness and still need extra oxygen or rehabilitation after hospitalization.”

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SOURCE: University of Utah Health, press release, September 4, 2020

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