Since the past few years, wildfires in western countries have become more common than ever, which is a cause of concern not only due to its impact on the environment and role in degradation but also on associated health concerns. Wildfires increase toxic smoke and pollution in the air, leading to many short and long-term health complications. Now, research even shows that they are increasing coronavirus transmission rates.
In addition to being a challenge on its own, the wildfires can worsen the pandemic, according to researchers. Since particles in the smoke can stay in the air for a very long period of time and travel far as well, there is a significant risk that they can also help in spreading the coronavirus.
In fact, multiple new studies have highlighted the increase in coronavirus mortality in twenty-five of the US states with the highest exposure to the smoke from wildfires. For instance, a study that was recently published in the journal IOPscience showed that the worsening air index increased the chances of death due to the coronavirus infection by nine percent.
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Moreover, another report by researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found an association between higher mortality rates in coronavirus patients after exposure to toxic air. Precisely, smoke in the air increased mortality by fifteen percent.
At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, health experts and environmental scientists had also pointed out a higher prevalence of the coronavirus infection in the most polluted areas.
In Italy and China, both of which were among the worst-hit by a coronavirus and previous epicenters of the virus, the rates of transmission went down along with the pollution. By the time the countries had control over the virus spread, pollution had also dropped by twenty to forty percent which clearly shows a correlation.
A study conducted at Aarhus University, which is in Denmark, also looked at the patterns of the pandemic in Italy and accentuated a big difference in the death rates in the country’s southern and northern regions.
Read the study here.
More specifically, the researchers discovered that the latter, which is far more polluted, had a twelve percent mortality rate, while the former had a four percent rate. This shows the role of environmental pollution in high coronavirus transmission rates.
Since the wildfires may take a certain period of time to be contained and for the air index to become less hazardous, health experts are recommending people to follow coronavirus guidelines more strictly than before as they can protect from both the virus and the smoke.
The most important step to avoid health outcomes of the smoke and the virus is to wear a mask whenever going out in public spaces.
Secondly, people should also be careful on deciding what to go out for. Given the condition of the pandemic, it is generally advised that people should stay in and not leave their homes unless it is absolutely necessary.