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Climate Change, Wildfires, and the New Respiratory Diseases

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Respiratory Diseases

Climate change is one of the top risks in the world right now which is a direct threat to all living things, the atmosphere, the biological and ecological environment, and to all sources of life. It is not just limited to extreme events and temperatures, but it also has a high potential for unprecedented outbreaks of viruses and diseases for which the world is not ready yet. One of the most frequent extreme events is the wildfire in parts of the U.S., Greece, Turkey, Australia, and some other countries due to the rising temperatures and global warming. Resultantly, these wildfires have further fanned the fuel for increasing global warming with the released carbon dioxide gas. It has also increased the risk of new respiratory diseases, especially in the areas most prone to wildfires.

Scientists have been repeatedly warning about the hazards and consequences of air pollution on the planet. These wildfires have aggravated the problem as they make the air highly toxic and harmful for all living organisms in the affected area for a long period. The population residing in wildfires-affected areas becomes much more vulnerable to the cytokine storm which can be fatal. A cytokine storm is referred to as a bunch of respiratory diseases, in particular, attacking a patient all at once. One such example can be acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) or SARS-CoV-2 or Covid-19. In other words, the chances of catching Covid-19 increase manifold among the affected population.

The recent yearly wave of wildfires has hit many states in the U.S.; Northern California, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington D.C. Some states of Canada have also been affected; Ontario and British Columbia. Similarly, Australia’s bushfire season (2019-21) has cost over $105 billion with almost 500 people indirectly affected. This year, the wildfires appeared in Turkey and Greece which also cost billions of dollars and a massive loss of property and land.

The wildfires cause many respiratory diseases directly affecting the lungs and other organs. For instance, chronic asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiopulmonary disease, hypertension, and diabetes are comorbidities of Covid-19 which simultaneously affect the body. The wildfires also cause air pollution which increases the toxicity of the air resulting in poor growth of infants, plants, sea organisms, and micro-organisms in the environment. The amount of particulate matter (PM) in the atmosphere is responsible for the increase and decrease in air pollution. During a wildfire, the PM rises to 2.5 on average which is highly harmful to the human respiratory system. Such high PM weakens the angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) and angiotensin-converting receptors blockers (ARBs) which increase the vulnerability to Covid-19. They also increase the risk of catching other respiratory diseases by damaging the immune system. 

The risks of catching acute and chronic respiratory disease increase due to the poor quality of the air. The wildfires work as a trigger to increasing the effects of global warming and damaging the human population by spreading unwanted diseases. The affected areas become too hot to live and smoke lingers for a long time, affecting the natural habitat and human health. One solution to control the highly dangerous events of wildfires is to reduce air pollution and curb global warming. However, on a smaller scale, the authorities can manage such events by proper security around highly planted areas like forests. Also, immediate relief and fire control systems and equipment can help lessen the damage.

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