Wildfire smoke and COVID-19: Impact on humans


Wildfire smokes covering the West Coast in the U.S. have stirred concern among scientists and toxicologists and the people worldwide.

Wildfires, having burnt millions of acres, have caused extensive evacuations with people severely affected by the smoke and deteriorating air quality. Twenty-five people have died this year due to it, and it is only getting worse with the smoke reaching the East Coast and even across regions of Europe.

Wildfire Smoke

The wildfire smoke is not a typical gas, and its effects depend on what is burning and how far has it traveled or aged. The contents of the smoke vary according to the burning nature as well, whether it is flaming or smoldering.

Wildfire smoke mainly carries carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides.

Unlike the popular belief, the smoke that has traveled more considerable distances is more dangerous than the bigger particles found closer to it. Aged smoke carries particles that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers are the criterion for PM2.5 warnings that authorities issue.

With the high level of wildfires and their vast stretch, the air quality has reached hazardous levels in many areas.

Impact on humans

Human bodies have their immune systems that can fight particles bigger than 2.5 micrometers. This system works in the form of excreting foreign bodies through mucous or cough.

However, these particulate matters that penetrate the human lungs cannot be broken down by our bodies and lead to inflammation. This inflammation affects a person’s lungs, heart, kidney, liver, and even brain.

The impact is severe in underlying health issues like COPD or asthma, which are already inflammatory diseases. It has also been found to affect the fetus in a pregnant woman.

COVID-19 and wildfires

Under the current pandemic situation, the wildfires have only multiplied the risk factors and casualties. The smoke causes eye irritation and severe breathing problems to the exposed person and hence lowering the immunity. The virus we are fighting in this pandemic also feeds on the weak immune system of a person, and therefore the fatality risks have gone high.

People are hence advised to stay updated with their local authorities about the air quality warnings. It is better to stay indoors and use air filters, if possible. Avoiding extensive exercise, cycling, or outdoor activities in affected areas is ideal.

Prevention is better than cure, and in current times when the world is struggling for a treatment, it is better to be secure indoors.

Image courtesy of streetphotog66/Shutterstock

Soumya Saxena

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Soumya Saxena

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