Scientists from Harvard University have conducted a new study that has shown that exposure to increased levels of fine particle pollution that is present in wildfire smoke might be the cause of thousands of more COVID19 infections. The study has noted that wildfire smoke might as well have led to more deaths among people who have tested positive for COVID19. Experts have said that some counties in California and Washington State have been badly hit by wildfire last year. The authors of the study have found that nearly 20 percent of COVID19 cases have been attributed to higher levels of wildfire smoke. They have said that higher levels of wildfire smoke might have triggered an elevated rate of deaths linked to COVID19 in some counties. Dr. Francesca Diminici, who is a professor of biostatistics at Harvard University, has said that the interplay between smoke and COVID19 infection is a deadly combination as the world continues to face these wildfires each year. Dr. Francesca Diminici is also one of the authors of the new study. Dr. Diminici has said that the pandemic has been one of the disasters that people living in Western America have faced last year. In recent history, California has witnessed five of the six massive wildfires last year. Currently burning Dixie fire has secured number two position in the largest fires list. As per the report, smoke from many other fires has covered Western states of the US in 2020. Experts have said that massive plumes have triggered record-breaking smoke storms that have suffocated states such as Oregon and Washington. The findings of the new study have been reported in the journal called Science.
Many past studies have shown that higher levels of air pollution can deteriorate the severity of symptoms of COVID19 and shoot up the spread of the virus as well. Nevertheless, it is unclear how the SARS-CoV-2 virus and pollution particles intermingle in the air. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suggested on its website that wildfire smoke can cause irritation in the lungs and can make people more susceptible to lung infections. The CDC has said that wildfire smoke can also make people more vulnerable to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that leads to COVID19 infection. A study that has been released early this year has shown that the rate of COVID19 positivity has shot up majorly in Washoe County during the time of high levels of wildfire smoke. This study has been done by experts from the Desert Research Institute Nevada. The authors of the new study from Harvard University have created statistical models to examine the link between wildfire smoke and SARS-CoV-2 infection. They have looked at the data of 92 counties in Oregon, Washington, and California where wildfires have taken place from March 2020 to December 2020. During this time, nearly more than 73000 people have lost their lives due to COVID19 in these three states. Experts have continued to collect data on COVID19 cases and deaths in those 92 counties. With the help of satellite sensors, they have found exactly when wildfires have been burning in these states. They have used ground-level sensors to monitor the levels of fine particulate matter that is known as PM2.5. Experts have said that PM2.5 is a key pollutant in wildfire smoke. They have waited for a month to determine the health impacts of high levels of wildfire smoke. The authors of the study have seen strong evidence of a link between a higher risk of COVID19 infection and deaths and elevated levels of particulate matter.
Health experts have said that they have found that the percentage of the total number of COVID19 infections and deaths that are attributed to high levels of particulate matter has been extensive in some counties. The findings of the study have shown that the counties of Whitman, Wash, Butte, and Calif have shown some of the massive impacts of high levels of wildfire smoke on the number of COVID19 cases and deaths linked to the virus. The authors of the study have claimed that 18.2 percent of COVID19 incidents in Whitman County last year can be attributed to poor air quality due to wildfire smoke. Around 17.3 percent of cases in Butte County might have taken place due to the high levels of particulate matter in the air, said the experts. As wildfires have smoldered many huge areas of Western America in past years, health experts have witnessed many health issues that are linked to ingesting heavy amounts of smoke. Health officials have warned that smoke can aggravate respiratory issues such as asthma or chronic pulmonary disease. They have said that some mental health issues such as anxiety and depression as well can turn worse under a blanket of smoke. An air quality policy expert from the Washington State Department of Health, Dr. Kaitlyn Kelly has said that breathing in wildfire smoke with COVID19 infection can exacerbate the signs and symptoms of the patients. Scientists who have been studying air quality have claimed that it is possible that smoke particles in the air might contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well. Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto has said that when there is a high prevalence of particles in the air, these microbes can easily get inside the lungs. Dr. Picciotto is an environmental epidemiologist at the University of California. She has been studying the effects of wildfire smoke on COVID19 infection. She has claimed that massively increased levels of PM2.5 can promote the spread of the virus. She has not been part of the Harvard study. Dr. Picciotto has been monitoring the overall health of people living in California who have been affected by wildfire since 2017 in a long-term study. The authors of the new study have done a study last year that has found that air pollution exposure is linked to a higher rate of COVID19 deaths. The new study has found that nearly 41 percent of COVID19 deaths are linked to high levels of wildfire smoke in Butte County.