Increase In Hospital Visits Resulting From West Coast Wildfires Has Doctors Concerned

The Northern California health system has reported a major surge in cases involving toxic smoke and its alarming health effects.

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It’s been over a month since hundreds of wildfires began spewing toxic smoke along the entire west coast of the United States. Now, doctors are reporting a substantial increase in hospital visits as a result of the air pollution that’s engulfing thousands of miles of land. According to northern California’s Stanford Health Care system, hospital admissions have jumped 12% in recent weeks which includes a 43% increase in “cerebrovascular conditions such as strokes.”

Doctors in Oregon have reported that 1 in 10 emergency room visits are now related to smoke-related illnesses. In San Francisco, doctors are being forced to close their Covid-19 recovery clinics due to the unhealthy air quality putting patients at an even higher risk for lung damage and other ailments. 

Experts spoke with the media recently about the horrible conditions this toxic smoke is creating, claiming that inhalation can directly lead to an increase in health problems such as asthma, heart attacks, kidney problems, and even mental health issues. Kristina Chu works for the Bay Area air quality management district and recently and discussed how intense it’s been warning citizens to remain indoors due to the toxic conditions. 

“We’re on the 30th consecutive day of our ‘Spare the Air’ alerts. That’s an all-time record, we’ve now had a month of severe exposure to smoke and the levels have been very high.”

Patients with pre-existing lung or heart conditions face the biggest risk for hospitalization. Dr Mary Prunicki is the director of research for Stanford’s Center for Allergy and Asthma Research and recently told the press that her team has seen a “troubling rise in overall hospitalizations for specific conditions.” 

In the first two weeks of smoke pollution, it was calculated that an extra 500 individuals were sent to Stanford’s hospitals compared to what would normally be expected based on current trends with Covid-19. After 3 weeks of toxic air there was a 14% increase in the number of heart patients hospitalized, an 18% increase for patients with kidney conditions, and a 17% increase in asthma patients. 

Doctors are projecting these numbers to keep increasing exponentially due to the fact that the west coast wildfires show no real sign of slowing down. The most alarming new statistic to come from these fires is a 43% increase in strokes and other cerebrovascular condition hospitalizations, which is likely related to inflammation issues brought on by the smoke. Prunki also claimed that one of the major issues with these cases that they’re still trying to figure out involves the various ways this smoke can impact the bodies many functioning systems. 

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“Fine particles in the smoke go to the bottom of your lungs and then can cross over to the bloodstream and go anywhere in your body. I don’t know that we have it figured out on a cellular level, but we know that pollution is causing inflammatory changes.”

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Long-term effects from smoke inhalation is also being heavily researched at the moment. Past studies have shown that individuals like firefighters are at a greater risk for diseases such as cancer due to their over exposure to smoke. Gabriela Goldfarb is a spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority which has been closely monitoring hospital visits relating to the wildfires. 

Air quality index’s claim that any conditions that rate over 300 are considered “hazardous,” but communities in Oregon especially have been rated at over 500 numerous times now. Goldfarb claimed how in any normal circumstance residents would be able to take shelter from the smoky conditions at stores or libraries, however, the Covid-19 pandemic now makes that impossible. 

Even worse, individuals who are suffering from ailments relating to the toxic smoke are now more hesitant to go to the hospital out of fear of infection. Doctors have already seen multiple cases of patients coming in with severe lung conditions that clearly built up over time due to constant inhalation.

This past Thursday some air quality experts claimed that west coast residents would see a break in the dangerous conditions as offshore winds are predicted to blow the clouds of smoke more inland, which could also be bad news for those in the middle of the country, and even eastern coast. As of right now, however, professionals aren’t slowing down their efforts in combating these wildfires, as they know they’re nowhere close to being finished.