Health Officials Report Fewer-Than-Expected Emergency Room Visits for Wildfire-Related Respiratory Problems
Wildfires in Southern California have produced "dangerously high levels of air pollutants" in the past week, but health and emergency medical officials have reported fewer emergency room visits for respiratory problems than expected, the Los Angeles Times reports. The smoke from the wildfires contains high levels of particles, gases and poisonous compounds that have affected air quality levels over hundreds of miles in Southern California. Joe Cassmassi, senior meteorologist for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said that in the past week, the air in the area has contained levels of fine particles -- which can irritate and narrow airways and lead to reduced lung function over the long-term -- "four to five times greater than on a normal day." In addition, the air in some areas has contained levels of large particles two times the federal standard and five to seven times the state standard, he said. Dr. Paul Simon, chief of health assessment and epidemiology at the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said that ERs may have reported fewer visits for respiratory problems than expected because "people may be heeding the warnings, taking precautions and staying indoors." However, health and emergency medical officials predict that the number of ER visits will increase as more of those at risk for respiratory problems develop infections in their lungs and sinuses because of prolonged exposure to the polluted air. Dr. C. Philip Amoils, a Santa Clarita ear, nose and throat specialist, also predicted that prolonged exposure to the air will prompt "a tremendous amount of patients" to visit specialists and primary care physicians in the next two weeks (Allen, Los Angeles Times, 10/31).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.