Breaking News
August 15, 2018 - Scientists explore ways for drug therapies to reach deadly brain tumors
August 15, 2018 - Rethinking fundamental rule of stroke care: ‘Time is brain!’
August 15, 2018 - Scientists reveal role of ‘junk DNA’ in cancer dissemination
August 15, 2018 - Google’s DeepMind AI could soon be diagnosing eye conditions
August 15, 2018 - Scientists trick the brain to embody the prosthetic limb
August 15, 2018 - Researchers focus on uncoupling obesity from diabetes
August 15, 2018 - A class of proteins shown to be effective in reducing drug-seeking behaviors
August 15, 2018 - Gemphire Announces Termination of Phase 2a Clinical Trial of Gemcabene in Pediatric NAFLD
August 15, 2018 - Rheumatoid arthritis in pregnancy associated with low birth weight and premature birth
August 15, 2018 - Study may help increase effectiveness of antibiotics against drug-resistant bacteria
August 15, 2018 - Robotic walking frame aims to help maintain mobility of older adults
August 15, 2018 - Simple intervention during routine care reduces alcohol consumption in men with HIV
August 15, 2018 - Genetics Home Reference: gout
August 15, 2018 - Scientists ID genesis of disease, focus efforts on shape-shifting tau
August 15, 2018 - OncoThira and NDSU enter into license agreement to develop, market cancer compounds
August 15, 2018 - Scientists unravel the mystery behind ovarian cancer with high-grade serous carcinoma
August 15, 2018 - Common signs that indicate vision problems in children
August 15, 2018 - Removing the cancer label – overhaul in cancer classification proposed
August 15, 2018 - Prams may expose babies and toddlers to more air pollution finds study
August 15, 2018 - Duke researchers track missing T-cells in glioblastoma patients
August 15, 2018 - Cardiac Profiles Up With Exercise, Less Sitting in Early Old Age
August 15, 2018 - Precision medicine offers a glimmer of hope for Alzheimer’s disease
August 15, 2018 - Immunovia’s new blood-based testing platform accurately detects non-small cell lung cancer
August 15, 2018 - New method provides a ‘big picture’ of genetic influences on traits and diseases
August 15, 2018 - Early Onset Type 1 Diabetes Linked to Heart Disease, Shorter Life
August 14, 2018 - SMURF1 provides targeted approach to preventing cocaine addiction relapse
August 14, 2018 - Genetic testing pushed for hereditary high cholesterol disease
August 14, 2018 - Researchers discover new genes involved in Alzheimer’s Disease
August 14, 2018 - Medicare to overhaul ACOs but critics fear fewer participants
August 14, 2018 - Adolescent health projects receive meager percentage of global funding, study finds
August 14, 2018 - University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center launches new CAR-T therapy trial
August 14, 2018 - In the addiction battle, is forced rehab the solution?
August 14, 2018 - Busting myths about milk – Scope
August 14, 2018 - Platelet-rich plasma does not enhance cartilage formation capabilities of stem cells
August 14, 2018 - Wearable devices and ‘mhealth’ technology emerge as promising tools for better health
August 14, 2018 - Johns Hopkins expert panel develops first set of operation-specific opioid prescribing guidelines
August 14, 2018 - Clinical study suggests new treatment direction for head and neck cancer in heavy smokers
August 14, 2018 - Phase 2 Clinical Data Published Showing Summit’s Ridinilazole Preserved Gut Microbiome of Patients with CDI
August 14, 2018 - Cardiac progenitor cells undergo a cell fate switch to build coronary arteries
August 14, 2018 - Study identifies potential guidance to treat gastric cancer patients
August 14, 2018 - Revealed: The molecular mechanism underlying hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or “workaholic heart”
August 14, 2018 - Diabetes epidemic in Guatemala driven by aging, not obesity
August 14, 2018 - New technology shows potential to streamline the analysis of proteins
August 14, 2018 - Rethinking the stroke rule ‘time is brain’
August 14, 2018 - Incidence of coronary artery compression in children may be more common than previously thought
August 14, 2018 - Study helps to better understand disease caused by Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
August 14, 2018 - AI platform identifies acute neurological illnesses faster than human diagnosis
August 14, 2018 - American College of Rheumatology receives grants to support development of lupus clinical trials
August 14, 2018 - New study explains why women get more migraines than men
August 14, 2018 - American Heart Association Urges Screen Time Limits for Youth
August 14, 2018 - Brief interventions during routine care reduce alcohol use among men with HIV
August 14, 2018 - New genome analysis could identify people at higher risk of common deadly diseases
August 14, 2018 - NIH grant for Mount Sinai to study use of inhaled corticosteroids for treatment of sickle cell disease
August 14, 2018 - Daicel supplies free nanodiamond samples to international researchers
August 14, 2018 - Switching anti-psychotic drugs in first-episode schizophrenia patients does not improve clinical outcomes
August 14, 2018 - Study to examine whether modulating gut bacteria can improve cardiac function in heart failure patients
August 14, 2018 - AI technology could hold key to improving health services
August 14, 2018 - One out of two children not getting enough nutrients needed for their health
August 14, 2018 - Mono-antiplatelet therapy after aortic heart valve replacements may work as well as two drugs
August 14, 2018 - Aid-in-dying patient chooses his last day
August 14, 2018 - Exercise Really Can Chase Away the Blues, to a Point
August 14, 2018 - Surgical mesh implants may cause autoimmune disorders
August 14, 2018 - Researchers develop revolutionary zebrafish model to gain more insight into bone diseases
August 14, 2018 - Researchers discover secret communication hotline between breast cancers and normal cells
August 14, 2018 - Study examines how a person adapts to visual field loss after stroke
August 14, 2018 - Researchers show how specialized nucleic acid-based nanostructures could help target cancer cells
August 14, 2018 - Reducing opioid prescriptions for one operation can also spill over to other procedures
August 14, 2018 - E-cigarettes not so safe but still better than cigarettes
August 14, 2018 - Researchers find link between common ‘harmless’ virus and cardiovascular damage
August 14, 2018 - Initiation of PIMs associated with higher risk of fracture-specific hospitalizations and mortality
August 14, 2018 - Genetically modified mosquitoes and special bed nets help tackle deadly diseases
August 14, 2018 - Advances in treating hep C lead to new option for transplant patients
August 14, 2018 - Study finds quality of doctor-patient discussions about lung cancer screening to be ‘poor’
August 14, 2018 - MSU researchers uncover the effects of aging on regenerative ability of kidneys
August 14, 2018 - Better conditioning, throwing mechanics can help reduce elbow injuries in young baseball pitchers
August 14, 2018 - Brain game doesn’t offer brain gain
August 14, 2018 - Reproductive choices facing women with disabilities require careful consideration
August 14, 2018 - Scientists pinpoint the cause of a rare childhood seizure disorder
August 14, 2018 - Lumpectomy plus radiation associated with reduced risk of breast cancer death, study finds
August 14, 2018 - UAB study shows how ion channel differentiates newborn and mature neurons in the brain
California wildfires threaten the health of young and old

California wildfires threaten the health of young and old

image_pdfDownload PDFimage_print

Debbie Dobrosky noticed a peculiar hue in the sky on Monday — “a very ugly yellow casting” — as she peeked outside. A large cloud of smoke had begun to cover the sun.

By Tuesday, the smoke was so heavy that “even inside my apartment I’ve had to use my inhaler twice this morning, which is not a normal thing,” said Dobrosky, a Riverside County, Calif., resident who lives about 30 miles from a fast-growing fire in the Cleveland National Forest.

“Today I’m stuck inside, there’s no going out,” said Dobrosky, 67, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inflammatory lung condition.

At least 17 large fires are burning across California, destroying hundreds of thousands of acres, sending toxic pollutants into the air and contaminating water supplies. The air quality in certain areas — particularly near the massive Mendocino Complex Fire in the northern part of the state — is among the worst officials have ever seen.

And conditions aren’t expected to improve as new blazes break out and others rage uncontrolled. With temperatures at times reaching into the triple digits, unpredictable winds and desiccated brush that serves as kindling, there’s no end in sight to this year’s fire season.

“We are in a situation now where the wildfire season doesn’t really have its normal beginning or end,” said Lori Kobza, spokeswoman for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

The 629,000 acres burned this year follows large swaths torched last year in Ventura, Santa Barbara, Napa and Sonoma counties, causing dozens of deaths, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Many scientists attribute the more frequent and ferocious fires in the U.S. and around the world, at least in part, to climate change.

Meanwhile, air quality districts around the state have issued warnings to stay indoors — with windows shut and the air conditioner running — and to limit outdoor activities. In many places, kids’ ball games, riding lessons and summer camps have been cancelled.

NASA satellite photos show towers of smoke in California billowing into the atmosphere. Up and down the state, air quality officials have marked huge swaths as red with spots of purple — places where air is unhealthy or very unhealthy to breathe. Smoke and ash can travel dozens or even hundreds of miles.

Children, older people and those with respiratory illnesses such as asthma and COPD are particularly at risk of smoke-related health problems. But otherwise-healthy people also may experience short-term breathing problems, eye irritation and coughing.

Fine particulate matter, which is mostly invisible, can lead to inflammation of the lungs and other organs. For people with cardiac problems, toxic smoke has been associated with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and death, said Dr. Michael Schivo, associate professor of medicine at University of California-Davis.

Schivo, who has lived in the Sacramento area most of his life, said he can’t remember the air being as bad as in the past few years. More patients with chronic lung disease are experiencing more uncontrolled symptoms, he said.

Lisa Suennen, 52, who lives in Marin County, about 100 miles from the Mendocino fire, has gone to the doctor three times in recent weeks because of lingering respiratory issues. She said her problem started as a cold, but as the air got worse, she developed bronchitis and her asthma flared up. “My lungs do not feel healthy right now,” she said. “It is just not natural to breathe.”

Air quality experts and physicians said more fires are bound to occur, and people with health issues need to have a plan for the bad air days, such as keeping extra medications on hand. “This isn’t the first fire season California has had and it won’t be the last,” said Patrick Chandler, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “You can’t really tough this out.”

Some people say they have no choice but to take risks. Alyssa Mayo, 31, who has struggled with respiratory issues for two decades, runs a rehabilitation center for horses and dogs northeast of Sacramento. Now, she can’t see the mountain range out her window because of the smoke.

But Mayo said she has horses and dogs to care for. “Unfortunately, with our business, we can’t sit inside all day,” she said. “I wish I could hunker down and stay out of it, but these animals depend on us.”

Air quality may be the most pressing issue, but scientists say that ultimately water — another human necessity — is in danger, too. Ash, burned soil and toxic residue from incinerated houses, businesses and machinery can make their way into lakes, rivers and reservoirs, said Carmen Burton, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s California Water Science Center in San Diego. The extent of the contamination depends on factors such as topography and the number and type of materials burned.

Wildfires typically sweep through rural areas more than urban — and this year follows that pattern, said Catherine Dunwoody, chief of the monitoring and laboratory division for California’s Air Resources Board. Dunwoody cited some of the mountainous areas in and around Yosemite, in particular, where a 94,000-acre fire was substantially contained as of Tuesday afternoon.

Yet as housing complexes encroach on wild lands, residents increasingly risk their homes, their health and even their lives.

Some parts of the state suffer more than others. The entire San Joaquin Valley faces the ill effects of blazes not only in nearby Yosemite but throughout Northern California, said Anthony Presto, a spokesman for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. This region, he explained, is surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges, making it easier for pollutants and smoke to funnel southward and become trapped in a bowl.

Kimberly McCoy, who lives in Fresno, has seen that firsthand. She and her son both have asthma, and she said her chest feels tight and her son has been wheezing. McCoy said she hasn’t let her son outdoors in recent days. “That’s really hard for an active 6-year-old,” she said.

In Sacramento County, smoke is now trapped under a ridge of high pressure. Kobza, of the local air district, said that if masks are worn, they should be specialized to protect from the fine particulate matter. Dust masks from the hardware store won’t cut it, she said.

“People have a false sense of security,” she said. “If it’s small enough to get into the bloodstream, it’s small enough to get through paper.”

Some people are wearing masks even in their cars. Dobrosky, of Riverside County, said she recently ordered a pack of specialized masks from Amazon after running out during last year’s blazes. After those fires, she also bought a treadmill so that she could exercise inside. Even so, Dobrosky said, her lungs are sore.

“Breathing” she said, “has become a chore.”

Alex Leeds Matthews and Stephanie O’Neill contributed to this story.

KHN’s coverage of these topics is supported by California Health Care Foundation and Blue Shield of California Foundation

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Anna Gorman: [email protected], @AnnaGorman

Ana B. Ibarra: [email protected], @ab_ibarra

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Tagged with:

About author

Related Articles