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Twin Disasters: How West Coast Fires Can Affect the COVID-19 Pandemic

As California forest fires and the COVID-19 pandemic collapse, they could pose a serious double threat.

“Now we’re struggling with two public health crises,” Panagis Galiatsatos, MD, MHS, a pulmonologist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and volunteer medical spokeswoman for the American Lung Association, told ABC News.

And it gets worse: The two forces of nature can interact with each other. “When we have public health problems from forest fires to hurricanes, we worry about a worsening of the virus,” Galiatsatos said.

A fire smoke causes air pollution by creating particles, microscopically small particles that can bypass filters in the nose and throat and penetrate deep into the lungs. These particles can cause respiratory inflammation, leading to increased susceptibility to respiratory infections, worsening of underlying respiratory conditions, and increased risk of hospitalization and death from pneumonia.

“Ongoing investigations will give us more information about fire smoke and COVID-19, but we know that air pollution makes COVID-19 worse, especially if you have underlying conditions,” said Simone Wildes, MD, a specialist in infectious diseases on the South Shore. Health and ABC News Medical Unit contributor. The combination of airway inflammation caused by irritants in smoke plus underlying conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease creates a “perfect storm” for poor COVID-19 results, she added.

“Even if you have good lungs, if you inhale residues from fires, your lungs may be weakened and ill-prepared to fight the virus,” Galiatsatos said.

Previous studies have shown that affected areas during forest fires see a significant increase in visits to emergency rooms and hospitalizations for respiratory diseases (such as asthma or emphysema) and cardiovascular conditions (such as heart attacks and strokes). Now, experts are concerned that forest fires could increase the burden of the pandemic on California hospitals. “Hospitals will have to deal with a lot of breathing problems due to injuries from fire exposure. Capacity will be stretched,” Wildes said.

As people are forced to flee fires and seek refuge together, social distancing efforts can be compromised. The need for hiding is a big problem, she said, but so are the effects of inhaling toxins from a fire smoke. “The great thing is that social distance will be tough, but you have to weigh immediate danger, like having to get people to safety from a fire with the overall danger of spreading infection. The important thing is to get back to social. distance as soon as you are able. “

Similarly, Wildes explained, “Staying indoors is a double-edged sword now.”

“If your house is too close to the fire, evacuate, but if you are not that close, it is safer to stay indoors and protect yourself from smoke,” she said. Unfortunately, if you have to go outside, the textile masks recommended for reducing COVID-19 transmission will not protect you from the effects of air pollution. “N95 masks work best in fires, but because of the pandemic, we have a shortage, which is another double-edged sword.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer guidelines for safety, while the COVID-19 pandemic overlaps with devastating forest fires. It is important to check air quality reports frequently. The CDC recommends creating a cleaner air space at home, if possible, as well as adhering to social distance and respiratory and hand hygiene practices as best you can if you are going to a public disaster screen.

Because COVID-19 and smoke inhalation can result in similar symptoms – shortness of breath, sore throat, cough – Dr. recommends Wanted to discuss any symptoms regarding your healthcare provider to see if COVID-19 testing is recommended.

“The most important thing to remember is that if people do not catch the virus, they cannot spread it. Now is the time to do everything you can,” Galiatsatos said.

Leah Croll, MD, is a neurological resident at NYU Langone Health and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

This report was shown on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, the episode of “Start Here”, ABC News’ daily news podcast.

“Start Here” offers a straightforward look at today’s top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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