A new study published Friday by the “Science Advances” journal finds that people breathing in small particles connected to the wildfires in western states may be at a greater risk of getting COVID-19 or dying from the disease.
“We found strong evidence that wildfires amplified the effect of short-term exposure to (particulate matter) on COVID-19 cases and deaths, although with substantial (diversity) across counties,” the study reported.
The journal is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which seeks to "advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people," according to the organization.
The study looked at the impact wildfires had on people contracting, or experiencing more severe illness, with COVID-19, in the states of Washington, Oregon, and California, where more than 10 million acres burned in 2020.
The particulate matter from even short-term exposure is the “greatest risk to health,” and more likely to produce “adverse health outcomes,” the study said.
In general, breathing in these wildfire particles, which can contribute up to 25% of particulate matter in the atmosphere nationwide, are known to play a major role in deaths from respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD, according to the study.
The study of the daily particulate matter rate as 88% of the wildfires were burning between August and Oct. 15, 2020, correlated the higher particulate matter amounts in the air with a higher number of COVID case rates, and death rates.
It covered 92 counties in the three states with a population of 48.8 million and more than 25,000 daily records at the county level.
“While pooling across all counties, we found strong evidence of a positive associations between daily increases in (particulate matter) and increased risks of COVID-19 cases and deaths, cumulatively up to four weeks,” the study said. “We found that, in some of the counties, the percentage of the total number of COVID-19 cases and deaths attributable to the high levels of (particulate matter) was substantial.”
The pollution these particles in the air may not only make the disease more severe in the people breathing them in but may also help the virus move from person to person easier.
"When there are more particles in the air, these microbes actually have a greater chance of getting into your lungs," Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of California at Davis, told The Washington Post.
"There's a lot of plausibility that the wildfires, by massively increasing the amount of PM2.5 that people are breathing, could promote transmission of the virus."
While this was the first study to look at the issue, it did not answer the question asking if firefighters more generally, were more susceptible to the disease because of the particles they regularly breath in.
Calls and emails from Newsmax to the New York City Firefighters Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seeking comment on that question, were not returned by the story’s deadline.
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