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Hospital visits for respiratory illnesses spiked during Southern California wildfires
Date:11/18/2008

Irvine, Calif., Nov. 18, 2008 Raging wildfires that engulfed Southern California earlier this decade not only destroyed neighborhoods laying in their path, they also caused significant health problems for many who lived outside the fires' reach.

An analysis of hospital and emergency department admissions directly before, during and after the 2003 Southern California wildfires shows a dramatic increase in treatment for those with asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory disorders. Data points to the importance of educating people with existing respiratory ailments to react quickly to symptom onset and take precautionary measures. Results suggest that those at risk face similar health issues during current Southern California firestorm activity.

Heavy smoke conditions were associated with:

  • 34 percent increase in asthma admissions;
  • 67 percent increase in acute bronchitis admissions;
  • 48 percent increase in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease admissions; and
  • 45 percent increase in pneumonia admissions.

The hardest hit patients were young children and the elderly. Teens with asthma also were affected.

UC Irvine environmental epidemiologist Dr. Ralph Delfino led the study, which analyzed more than 40,000 admissions to Southern California hospitals in a month-and-a-half period surrounding raging wildfires in October 2003 that burned nearly three-quarters of a million acres and destroyed approximately 5,000 buildings.

According to study findings, public health officials need to increase preventive measures such as advising people to avoid outdoor activities and advocating use of anti-inflammatory medications at the first sign of a wildfire for people who have asthma.

"It's important to learn from this study that large-scale wildfires can have wide-ranging effects on human health. It will be vital to educate those at risk with existing respiratory conditions to react quickly at t
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Contact: Cathy Lawhon
clawhon@uci.edu
949-824-1151
University of California - Irvine
Source:Eurekalert

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