Most destructive wildfire in California history may have long-lasting health repercussions

The ongoing wildfires continue to char Northern and Southern California, blanketing parts of the state in smoke and ash and prompting the Bay Area and South Coast Air Quality Management Districts to issue smoke advisories Nov. 9., according to Wired.

Here are five things to know:

1. Wildfires are becoming more frequent due to climate change, inching closer to hitting more densely populated areas, and the smoke is affecting people's breathing. Due to the temperature of the fires, many cities that serve as wind blockers are destroyed, allowing the fire to grow exponentially.

"The air quality today is very bad, on par with something you might encounter in Beijing," Ralph Borrmann, public information officer at San Francisco-based Bay Area Air Quality Management District, told Wired.

2. Both the Bay Area and South Coast air quality management districts are concerned about the unhealthy levels of PM2.5, small pieces of liquids and solids suspended in the air about 2.5 micrometers long. Particles at this size can be inhaled into the deepest parts of the human lungs, bypassing the built-in body filtration systems where it slips into the bloodstream.

3. Regular clean air will have about a dozen micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter. People with heart or lung diseases can experience shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing or chest pain with 55 micrograms of PM2.5 in the air, and asthma sufferers will be prone to attacks. If the atmosphere rises above a 55-microgram PM2.5 concentration, anyone outside will suffer from complications. Any concentration level above 100 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter will feel their eyeballs beginning to sting, along with their throats, paired with chest tightness.

4. On Nov. 9, air monitors in San Francisco read the PM2.5 concentration levels had reached 162 micrograms per cubic meter, leading public health officials to advise people to stay indoors and set the air conditioning to recirculate mode. They also indicated the best way to protect yourself, if you have to go outside, is through a disposable respirator labeled N95.

5. Researchers have attempted to measure the full health repercussions from the wildfires' smoke wave, but do not have any hard results. The working consensus, based on hospital records, is that more smoke billowing into the atmosphere means more clinical trips for patients suffering from asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, COPD and heart failure. Vulnerable populations include children, the elderly, women, African-Americans and patients with chronic disease.

"As the climate continues to change, we’re going to see much more smoke, at higher intensities in the future," Jia Coco Liu, PhD, environmental health researcher at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins, told Wired.

Ms. Liu said her previous research indicated that by the middle of the century, more than 82 million people will experience smoke waves, defined as more than two days with high levels of wildfire-related air pollution. These smoke waves will most affect people in Northern California, Western Oregon and the Great Plains.

More articles on clinical leadership and infection control:

Wildfire smoke reaches toxic 'emergency' levels in Sacramento
Elderly C. diff patients face higher risk of adverse outcomes
New VA hospital star ratings may say little about care quality


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