In many people, inhaling smoke can cause allergic reactions or lung diseases such as asthma, especially from the tiny particles that come from burning wood and many other materials. But these well-known problems may not be the only ones that arise when you breathe smoke, especially if the smoke comes from cold fires like forest fires for example. A new study published in Science Magazine suggests that smoke from bush fires could also carry many species of microorganisms that could be a source of infectious diseases.
According to the article, bush fires, by burning plants and animal matter, expose thousands of species of bacteria and fungi. In general, these cannot easily be propagated in the air but because of the fire, they can travel thousands of kilometers by clinging to the particles contained in the smoke.
While most living things cannot resist fire, a study cited in the article found that some bacteria are able to survive and even multiply after a fire.
Fungal diseases increase with the rate of forest fires
At present, there is still no study that can confirm that smoke actually spreads infectious diseases in the human population. However, scientists who participated in this latest study believe it is not impossible. According to them, in some regions, the increase in the number of cases of fungal diseases has coincided with the increase in the amount of smoke from forest fires. They called this phenomenon “clear overlaps”.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also announced that firefighters have a higher risk of contracting valley fever. Note that this infection is caused by the absorption of a species of fungus found in the soil.
For his part, Peter Chen, director of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said large numbers of bacteria and fungi do not cause lung infection. However, he indicated that inhaling a significant amount of these microorganisms could actually worsen the symptoms of a pre-existing lung disease in a person.
Some populations would be more exposed than others
For Kelsey Jack, associate professor of environmental and development economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and climate group co-chair at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, the article raises an alarming threat to health.
According to him, low-income populations are the most threatened because they are more exposed to the environment. In addition, in developing countries, respiratory diseases are one of the leading causes of death in children and the elderly. Jack therefore thinks that it is important to do research on the possible presence of infectious microbes in the fumes from cooking fires or even field fires and determine if they are as numerous as what is found in fumes from forest fires. If so, we should also see if these microbes cause disease in these populations.
According to Dr. Chen, in the meantime, the best way to protect yourself from the possibility of smoke infection would be to follow the advice recommended in case of poor air quality, i.e. do not go out and be vigilant. keep doors and windows closed. You should also turn on the air conditioning and use HEPA filters for those who can afford it.