The fires that have hit Washington state and the West Coast come with an added danger this year, health experts say — an elevated risk of coronavirus.
Dust, ash and particles in smoke can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation and affect a person’s immune system.
Inflammation could increase the vulnerability to lung infections, including the coronavirus, health experts from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
Cloth masks, which help slow the spread of COVID-19 by blocking droplets coming from a person’s mouth and nose, do little to protect against inhaled smoke, according to the CDC.
N95 respirators can filter out tiny harmful particles in smoke, the CDC said, however, the masks may difficult to find because they have been in high demand during the pandemic.
Doctors, nurses, and first-responders have had to ration supplies of N95 masks this year.
A study this summer by a senior scientist with the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, anticipating colliding disasters of a pandemic and fires, examined how wildfire smoke and coronavirus might interact, using Washington state as an example.
“Simply put, a wildfire smoke episode of moderate magnitude and intensity has the potential to increase the impact of a COVID-19 outbreak by approximately 10%, with its timing along the epidemic curve being a key consideration,” the study found.
A UW Medicine pulmonary and critical care physician recommends vulnerable people limit their time outdoors and keep the windows in their home closed to limit smoke exposure.