Wildfire smoke raises risk of catching COVID-19, study suggests

Erica Carbajal - Print  | 

Prolonged exposure to wildfire smoke in Reno, Nev., was linked to a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, according to findings published July 13 in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology.

The study, led by researchers from the Center for Genomic Medicine at the Desert Research Institute, Washoe County Health District and Renown Health, all based in Reno, evaluated the relationship between fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5, from 2020 wildfires in the Western U.S. and COVID-19 positivity rate data from Renown Health. 

Findings showed PM 2.5 from the smoke was associated with a 17.7 percent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases reported between Aug. 16 and Oct. 10, 2020 — a period of prolonged smoke. 

"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, co-lead study author. "This is important to be aware of as we are already confronting heavy wildfire smoke from the Beckwourth Complex fire and with COVID-19 cases again rising in Nevada and other parts of the Western U.S." 

During the study period, Reno experienced 43 days of elevated PM 2.5, more than other affected areas such as San Francisco, which experienced 26 days of elevated PM 2.5.


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