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Smoke From Wildfires in Southwest May Be Health Hazard
Date:6/23/2011

southeast.

"I was out and the smoke was just hanging in the air. My throat got scratchy and I started with a headache. By the time I got home, I had a migraine," she related. "I had it for a day and a half. There was a lot of discomfort, my eyes hurt, I was nauseous."

Not surprisingly, Arizona residents closer to the Wallow fire are also reporting some breathing difficulties, said Dr. Cara Christ, chief medical officer for public health at the Arizona Department of Health Services in Phoenix. But the biggest effect comes from stress.

"This is having a huge behavioral impact," she said. "We've got on-the-ground counselors going to hotels, going to homes, going to shelters -- primarily to people who've been displaced or lost their homes or people who are fearful of losing their homes."

In New Mexico, people reporting to the emergency room with complaints attributable to the smoke are being treated and released, Richards said.

"The most important thing is that people need to be diligent about their underlying health maintenance," he stressed. "If you do have asthma or COPD, you need to be very diligent about complying with doctor's instructions around medications. If there was ever a time to avoid missing doses of regular medication it would be now."

The New Mexico Department of Health has issued several health advisories, warning elderly people, children and people with respiratory or heart conditions to stay away from the smoke, remaining inside if necessary.

People are also being advised not to use their "swamp coolers," or the evaporative cooling systems that are ubiquitous in the dry Southwest, because they pull smoke in from the outside.

"We're recommending that those people in close proximity to smoke take certain precautions," said Christ. "Once the air gets into the moderate-hazardous range, we're advising people to stay inside, not to do strenuous activity outside, keep doors and windows closed and for
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