In the western United States, two natural forces are clashing, and a wild firefighter is caught along the way.
New research suggests that Smoke firefighters breathe At the forefront of wildfire, there is an increased risk of new coronaviruses that can have fatal consequences.
At the same time, firefighting conditions make preventative measures such as social distance and hand washing difficult, and the virus is more likely to spread as soon as it enters the fire camp.
So Environmental toxinologist, I have spent the last 10 years Deepen understanding How exposure to wood smoke affects human health. Much of my current research focuses on protecting the long-term health of firefighters in the wilderness and the communities in which they serve.
Air pollution and damage from COVID-19
People have long understood that breathing air can affect their health, and the paper dates back to Hippocrates for more than 2000 years.On Air, Waters, Place.. “
Today, there is growing consensus among researchers that air pollution, especially very fine particles called PM2.5, influences the risk of respiratory illness. These particles 50 times smaller It can move deeper into the lungs than the grains of sand.
Italian scientists reported it in 2014 Air pollutants can increase viral load It invades the lungs and reduces the ability of specialized cells called macrophages to eliminate the invasion of the virus. Later Montana researchers Associated its effect with wood smoke.. They found that animals exposed to wood smoke 24 hours before exposure to pathogens had more pathogens in their lungs. Exposure to wood smoke reduced the ability of macrophages to combat respiratory infections.
Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health scientists examined county-level data nationwide this spring, even with a slight increase in PM2.5 from one county to the next in the United States. Significant increase in mortality From COVID-19. A slight increase in PM2.5 also increased the risk of death from other causes in the elderly, but the increase in COVID-19 was about 20-fold. The results were released before the normal peer review process was carried out and helped alert people to the risks.
In summary, these findings show air pollution, Including wood smoke, Wilderness firefighters may increase the risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Prolonged discovery by doctors Heart and lung damage Some COVID-19 patients raise further concerns for those who are physically demanding, such as fire fighting.
Lessons from “Camp Clad”
The risk of virus spread probably does not surprise experienced firefighters.
They are already familiar with the “camp clad”, a combination of upper and lower body respiratory illnesses with cough and fatigue that is common in fire camps. Illness seems to increase at the end of the season. This is consistent with the idea that repeated exposure to smoke suppresses the immune system and makes the body more susceptible to infection.
Further evidence that wildfire smoke can affect the risk of viral infections Influenza research We examined 10 years of air pollution data in Montana. The results show that wildfire smoke exposure affects influenza incidence after months.
How to protect firefighters from COVID-19
So what can we do to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to mountain firefighters?
Guidance released in May The National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates firefighting resources in the western mountainous regions, said wildfire smoke could “increase the susceptibility to COVID-19 infection, exacerbate the severity of the infection, and pose a risk to those recovering. A serious COVID-19 infection that admits to being sexual. “
National Wildfire Coordination Group Encourage the fire brigade to check Personal protective equipment is available to keep a record of symptoms, track illness, and contain the virus.
The guidance also prepares the camp for better hygiene, including the addition of hand-washing stations and mobile shower units, providing access to health care, enabling isolation, and coordinating communication between agencies regarding public health risks. I am seeking. Living alone tents also enable more effective social distance.
It is difficult to do all of this while the fire situation is changing rapidly. Fire camps can contain hundreds of people. One of the management controls implemented is to create a “pod” or small group of firefighters who work together, eat and lie down, away from other similar pods. This limits the chances of spreading the virus and facilitates containment if a positive case is identified.
Camp personnel can also have a coronavirus test kit handy to stop the infection. Pre-screening protocolIsolate and remove infected firefighters from the field.
Researchers have recently Benefits of pre-screening and social distance To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in fire camps. They found that screening techniques could work in established fire camps for days, but social distance was more effective in fire scenarios that lasted weeks or months.
The number of Wildland firefighters is already declining in many areas Pandemic-related complicationsHowever, these numbers may become particularly tense as the fire season progresses. Along with the Campclad case, which can be mistaken for COVID-19, the COVID-19 case can significantly reduce the number of firefighters.
The safety of rural areas in the west depends on wilderness firefighters and their ability to respond to emergencies. Protecting their health also helps protect public health.
this is, First published article April 2020.
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