Wildfires and Human Health

R Xu et al. NEJM 2020; 383: 2173-2181. Full Text: Wildfires, Global Climate Change, and Human Health

This article describes the worsening situation with global wildfires and their direct/indirect effects on human health. In addition, “the interplay between wildfires and climate change is likely to form a reinforcing feedback loop, making wildfires and their health consequences increasingly severe.” The authors conclude that “societal action is requisite… to limit the global temperature increase” and reduce the severity of wildfires and other effects of climate change.

Specific health risks:

  • Direct health effects include burns, injuries, mental health effects, and death due to exposure to flames or radiant heat
  • There is consistent evidence of an increased risk of respiratory events, including hospitalizations and emergency department visits due to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and respiratory infection.
  • Heavy smoke can cause eye irritation and corneal abrasions and can substantially reduce visibility, increasing the risk of traffic accidents.
  • Owing to traumatic experiences, property loss, and displacement, residents in areas affected by wildfires are at an increased risk for mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and insomnia. The psychological consequences of wildfire events can persist for years, and children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable.
  • Risks of low birth weight and preterm birth are increased

Related article: NY Times (11/29/20): Wildfire Smoke Is Poisoning California’s Kids. Some Pay a Higher Price.

“The fires sweeping across millions of acres in California aren’t just incinerating trees and houses. They’re also filling the lungs of California’s children with smoke, with potentially grave effects over the course of their lives.” This article goes on to detail the personal effects of wildfires on 5 families.

Related blog posts:

Sunset from Sullivan’s Island, SC