Wildfire smoke linked to increased COVID-19 risk, study says

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In this aerial picture released via @LACoFireAirOps by the Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations shows the Tumbleweed brush fire along Interstate 5 (I-5) in Gorman, Calif., Sunday, July 4, 2021. Evacuations were ordered after a wildfire broke out and grew rapidly Sunday near an off-road vehicle park in Gorman, about an hour northwest of downtown Los Angeles. (Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations via AP)

RENO, Nev. (KTXL) – A new study suggests that exposure to wildfire smoke is linked to an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

“During the second half of the summer of 2020, two crises converged on residents of the western United States: the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread wildfires,” the study stated. “Air pollution is detrimental to health in general and to respiratory health in particular.”

According to the study, led by the Desert Research Institute, a 17.7% increase in COVID-19 cases was found in Reno, Nevada, following prolonged smoke exposure caused by wildfires between Aug. 16 and Oct. 10, 2020.

“Our results showed a substantial increase in the COVID-19 positivity rate in Reno during a time when we were affected by heavy wildfire smoke from California wildfires,” said Daniel Kiser, an assistant research scientist of data science at DRI and co-leader of the study.

The study found that Reno, whose intermountain valley location “restricts the dispersion of pollutants,” was exposed to higher concentrations of fine particulate matter from wildfire smoke for longer periods of time in 2020 than any other metropolitan area, including San Francisco.

“We believe that our study greatly strengthens the evidence that wildfire smoke can enhance the spread of SARS-CoV-2,” said Gai Elhanan, an associate research scientist of computer science at DRI and co-leader of the study with Kiser.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wildfire smoke is conducive to lung infections like the coronavirus.

“Wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect your immune system, and make you more prone to lung infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” the CDC stated.

As part of preparing for a wildfire, the CDC suggests people get vaccinated against COVID-19 “as soon as you can.”

COVID-19 vaccines help protect you from getting sick or severely ill with COVID-19 and may also help protect people around you,” the CDC stated.

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