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Poor air quality causes big increase in illness

November 18, 2008 | 10:47 am

Wildfire1Hospitals may be especially busy this week dealing with illness created by this weekend's wildfires. A study published online this week from UC Irvine that tracked hospital admissions immediately before, during and after the 2003 Southern California wildfires found a significant spike in illnesses.

Dr. Ralph Delfino, an environmental epidemiologist, analyzed more than 40,000 hospital admissions in the weeks surrounding the October 2003 fires that burned nearly three-quarters of a million acres. He found heavy smoke conditions associated with a:

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

The study found that young children, elderly people and teens with asthma were the most effected.

As Booster Shots noted in yesterday's story on the fires and air quality, it is vital for people who are prone to respiratory illnesses to take precautions when wildfires flare. Says Delfino:

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 the earliest signs of symptoms with preventive interventions.

Delfino's study will be published online this week in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

— Shari Roan

Photo credit: Allen J. Schaben /Los Angeles Times