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Wildfires Send Kids to ERs for Breathing Problems

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 8, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Wildfires are becoming increasingly common, and along with the rising environmental damage, a new study finds more breathing problems for kids.

In December 2017, a small wildfire in San Diego County, Calif., resulted in 16 more kids a day than usual showing up in emergency departments with trouble breathing, respiratory distress, wheezing or asthma.

Before it was over, the Lilac Fire burned 4,100 acres.

The study also found that children under 12 were more likely than older children to have breathing problems that led them to an emergency department. Children's visits to urgent care centers also increased.

For the study, the researchers looked at electronic medical records from 2011 to 2017. They also looked at levels of fine particle air pollution for the same period. Particulate matter (PM) pollution can be found in various sizes. PM2.5 are less than 2.5 micrometers in size or about 30 times smaller than the width of a single human hair. During the 2017 fire, PM2.5 levels increased fivefold.

Most kids who were brought to emergency departments lived downwind of the wildfire, which was driven by the Santa Ana winds, the study authors said.

"Our findings suggest that public health efforts focused on protecting young children with early warning systems and mitigation efforts downwind of Santa Ana wind-driven wildfires may decrease the impact of these destructive wildfires in the future," said researcher Dr. Sydney Leibel, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

The report was published online Jan. 6 in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Its publication dovetails with an ongoing wave of record wildfires in Australia that have claimed at least 24 lives and destroyed or damaged more than 2,000 homes. Many point to climate change as a contributor.

More information

For more on air pollution and breathing problems, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, Jan. 6, 2020

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