Forest Fires and COVID-19: The deadly combination of an element and a pandemic

Fires that consume forests around the world do more than devastate habitats and unbalance local ecosystems. A recent study by U.S. scientists shows that the consequences of the destructive power of the element can reach much further and. affect the course of a pandemic, intensifying the death toll from COVID-19.

Siberia, Greece, Spain, Turkey, the Italian Peninsula, the U.S. West Coast – these places probably never had as much in common as they do now. Horrifying photos and videos of raging fires destroying everything in their path have been reaching us regularly for weeks now.

There is no consolation in the findings of scientists from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the United States, published in “Science Advances”.

They concluded that massive fires consuming forested areas in the western states of Oregon, California and Washington may have contributed to the increased mortality of COVID-19 patients. By extension, fires in Russia or Europe may have the same effect.

It’s all because of PM 2.5, similar to what we face in Poland during the heating season, when most of our country’s cities and villages struggle with smog.

– The year 2020 brought previously unimaginable challenges to health care, both by a pandemic but also by a wave of wildfires, Francesca Dominici explains in the research report. – Our analysis has shown that climate change, through which we now have a fire problem, combined with COVID-19 is a deadly combination.

In the spring of 2020, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, forests in the western United States were destroyed by fire for several weeks, which, according to scientists, produced such large amounts of air pollution that it had a clear impact on the course of COVID-19 in many residents of those areas.

An analogous situation could happen in Greece, Italy, Spain or Turkey, where firefighters battle fires virtually all summer.

Researchers created a statistical model linking PM 2.5 concentrations and deaths among people infected with coronavirus. During the peak period (mid-April to mid-October), the amount of particulate matter in the 92 counties studied was 31.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air – compared to 6.4 before the fires. However, there were days when concentrations were as high as 500 micrograms in the immediate vicinity of the fire.

At the same time, among residents of Oregon, Washington and California, the percentage of people who struggled with severe COVID-19 symptoms was nearly 12 percent higher than the national average. The mortality rate was 8.4 percent higher.

The researchers go further and try to provide specific numbers of severe disease courses and deaths that can be linked to the fires. They believe these are 19,700 cases of severe COVID and 770 infected deaths directly caused by the release of massive deposits of PM 2.5, respectively.

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