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Wildfire smoke can make you more vulnerable to infections

Smoke in Boise
Posted at 3:25 PM, Sep 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-15 17:38:45-04

IDAHO — Idaho and most of the West has been blanketed by smoke due to wildfires burning in our neighboring states.

According to the National Weather Service Boise, the smoke is expected to stay around for a while.

"Most young, healthy people, they probably won't notice a difference, but our people with underlying allergies, lung problems, those are the people who are going to feel this the most," says Rachel Thomas, St. Luke's doctor of Emergency Medicine.

Wildfire smoke can affect both the inflammatory and immune response in the lungs, increasing the risk of infection. For someone who has COPD or any other respiratory condition, they are at a higher risk of developing any disease.

"The smoke is definitely going to affect their lungs more. They have more sensitive lungs, which is the best way to describe it, and it is going to cause more inflammation in their lungs, and it is going to push immune response in their lungs," Thomas says.

This means the smoke can affect and attack different cells in the lungs, which creates a higher risk of infections from bacteria and viruses.

"So if you go out in the smoke, you cause more of an inflammatory response in your lungs, you cause any sort of damage to your lungs from the smoke, now you're going to be more prone to getting an infection, including coronavirus," Thomas says.

Many symptoms overlap between COVID-19 and smoke exposure, like cough, sore throat or tightening of the chest, but smoke exposure should not cause a fever higher than 100.4 degrees or a loss of taste or smell.

"So those are things that are still pretty specific to oronavirus, but then also remember that smoke exposure can put you at higher risk for other infections so it could evolve into those symptoms," Thomas says.

It is recommended that you limit outdoor activities and help protect vulnerable populations like those with COPD and other respiratory conditions.