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Wildfire Smoke May Increase Risk of COVID-19 Infection

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Thursday, September 24, 2020   

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- Wildfires are becoming more common and severe due to climate change and its warmer and drier conditions, in Wyoming and across the West.

Now, health experts are warning people exposed to wildfire smoke also are at increased risk for COVID-19 infection.

Cheryl Pirozzi, a pulmonary physician with University of Utah Health, said the overlap of wildfire season with the coronavirus pandemic has sharply increased health risks.

"Wildfire smoke itself has harmful health effects," Pirozzi explained. "And there's a growing body of research showing that air pollution exposure increases risk for COVID-19 infection, and more severe disease or more deaths."

She said wildfire smoke includes a complex mixture of dangerous particulate pollution, which can cause inflammation and suppress the body's natural immune system, increasing the risk for respiratory viral infections, including COVID-19.

The latest data on air quality in your area is online at airnow.gov.

People who have contracted COVID-19 may also develop long-term conditions that put them at greater risk during wildfire season.

Pirozzi said the best way to protect yourself against the smoke is to reduce exposure. She said if possible, avoid outdoor activity during poor air-quality days.

"This applies to all people," Pirozzi said. "But especially more vulnerable people who are at higher risk - like older adults, and people with heart and lung diseases - should do everything they can to protect themselves from exposure to air pollution, but also exposure to COVID-19."

The Center for Disease Control's recommendations include having prescription drugs and other necessities delivered.

If you have to go outside, some masks rated N-95 or better offer protection against particulate matter, but Pirozzi said the mask won't help unless it's a tight fit.

Using an air purifier, and High Efficiency Particulate Air or 'HEPA' filters in air conditioning and heating units, can also improve indoor air quality.


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