As smoke from wildfires on the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada spread across the continent, people suffering from COVID-19 could been at a greater risk of dying.
“Smoke from wildfires could make it harder for people to fight off COVID-19 infections and the emerging variants because their immune systems are already battling pollution,” said a Friday report from National Geographic. “Studies have shown that people exposed to air pollution are more likely to die from COVID-19.”
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According to National Geographic, wildfire smoke is impacting residents on the opposite coast in New York City. They talked to a 29-year-old asthmatic who lives in Manhattan and is experiencing symptoms more severe then they have ever been in the U.S.
“To see wildfires have an actual effect on this coast…I was in disbelief,” he said.
Discover Magazine research this week showed that smoke across the country can be seen on a satellite view. It is making its way across the nation – and across the Atlantic Ocean to Norway and Sweden – after being picked up by a jet stream, said the outlet.
As of Friday, 300 wildfires were burning in British Columbia as well as 80 in the U.S., said National Geographic. The largest fire is located in Oregon and has burned more than 400,000 acres. The fires have been exacerbated by heat waves, drought and climate change, National Geographic said.
“The climate impacts we see today give us a glimpse of the future unless we limit temperature rise,” said United Nations Secretary General António Guterres in a July 22 tweet.
Smoke from these fires can have particulates from anything, from burned trees to buildings or other objects caught in the blaze. About 80 percent is a fine particulate matter composed of solid and liquid droplets from burned material, explained Mary Prunicki, the director of air pollution and health research at Stanford University.
These small particles can penetrate a person’s lungs, leading to respiratory illnesses and some can even enter the bloodstream or lodge inside the body. Traces of bacteria and fungi and other disease-causing microbes have been found in smoke clouds, as well as dangerous metals such as manganese, zinc, and lead.
“The sustained immune reaction from regularly inhaling air pollution can affect everything from lungs to the liver or brain,” said National Geographic. When smoke is present over a wide area, it can have a greater impact on vulnerable populations, such as people with COVID-19 and other respiratory issues.
While the fires continue burning, there has been an increase in COVID-19 infection rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases were on the rise in 90 percent of U.S. jurisdictions as of July 22.
To reduce the wildfire smoke, the number of fires must be reduced, said National Geographic. Looking into the future, lawmakers have considered legislation requiring better management of forests and other fire prevention and mitigation efforts.