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Southern California Wildfires Pose Health Risks to Children

USC researchers find nonasthmatics share similar symptoms as those with asthma
Los Angeles, Dec. 1, 2006– In October of 2003, multiple wildfires raged throughout Southern California. Now, researchers// at the University of Southern California (USC) report that residents without asthma in wildfire-endangered regions suffered as much as those with asthma.

The findings appear in the Dec. 1 print issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The study is the subject of the journal's cover story and is accompanied by an editorial written by Sverre Vedal, M.D. of the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

Using existing populations from the ongoing USC-led Children's Health Study (CHS), researchers led by Nino Künzli, M.D.,Ph.D., associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, sent questionnaires to thousands of residents in 16 cities covered by the Children's Health Study. These ranged from Alpine in San Diego County north to Atascadero.

"The Children's Health Study is a valuable study for us," says Künzli. "The smoke from the fires that year came as a very strong additional problem to the smog and airborne particulates we normally see affecting the health of our children. It was vital for us to understand how and where the fires affected the participants of the CHS study."

The October 2003 fires covered more than 3,000 square kilometers and destroyed 3,640 homes. Plumes of smoke dominated the region for several days raising particulate matter 10 to 20 times normal levels.

While many previous wildfire studies had focused on hospital admissions and emergency room visits, there had been less research into the consequences of wildfire smoke on children's health. Since many communities affected by the fires were already associated with the Children's Health Study, Künzli and colleagues saw an opportunity to better asse
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