Health. Are forest fires a source of infection risk?

Two American scientists, Leda Kobziar from the University of Idaho and George Thompson III from the University of California, evoke in an article published in the journal Science, a little-known but proven reality: viruses, bacteria and other fungi are transported by smoke from the forest fires.

This could induce an infectious risk if inhaled. This is the case, for example, of Coccidioides immitis and C. posadasii, responsible for coccidioidomycosis, an endemic fungal infection in North America.

However, scientists don’t know enough to make recommendations.

Kobziar and Thompson believe that a transdisciplinary work is necessary to decipher the complexity of the phenomenon.

Do all fumes have the same toxicity?

What we know about the health impact of smoke from fires refers primarily to fires in urban areas.

And in this area, the harmful effects are well documented: “in addition to the well-known acute poisonings, such as carbon monoxide poisoning and asphyxia, three other important effects appear (…) after many years: disorders and diseases diseases cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases and cancers, ā€¯recalls the National Pension Fund for employees of the local authorities to which the firefighters are affiliated.

Long-term effects have been largely attributed to the effects of inhaled fine particles.

On the other hand, little is known about the short- and long-term effects of forest fires, which are increasingly frequent due to global warming, especially in the United States and Australia.

It is true that the particles carried by “wildfire smoke can be considered at least as toxic to respiratory health in the short term as particles from urban sources,” notes the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec.

But what about the microbes in these fumes? And since these can travel thousands of kilometers thanks to the wind, could remote populations also be affected by these risks?

It is to get answers that the two scientists advocate establishing studies. “Rates of fungal infections have been reported in areas prone to wildfires,” they report.

But serious work is missing to prove it. According to them, this is a fundamental work in a context of increase of this type of natural disasters, which potentially expose large populations for long periods.