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An Urgent Public Health Activity Report Within Jackson County

From Jackson County Health and Human Services.  Flash Report - August 3, 2015 - An Urgent Public Health Activity Report Within Jackson County.  

Watch for Unhealthy and Hazardous Smoke Levels In Jackson County

Jackson County health officials and DEQ urge people to watch for unhealthy smoke levels. It is important for people to be observant of the air quality during the wildfire season, smoke levels can rise and fall depending on weather factors including wind direction.

During a wildfire smoke event, Jackson County health officials and DEQ advise residents to take the following precautions: 
  • Be aware of smoke concentrations in your area and avoid the places with highest concentrations. 
  • Avoid smoke either by leaving the area or protecting yourself by staying indoors, and by closing windows and doors 
  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activity in smoky conditions. 
  • People exposed to smoky conditions and who suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems should follow their breathing management plans or contact their healthcare providers. 
Check DEQ’s Air Quality Index to see real-time air monitoring data from monitors placed around Oregon: Keep in mind that monitoring locations are limited and pollution levels may be higher in some areas, especially those closer to a wildfire. 

Conduct a visual assessment: People can conduct a visual assessment of nearby smoke to quickly get a sense of air quality levels. Generally, if you can see up to 15 miles, the air quality is probably good. If you can see less than one mile, the air quality is very unhealthy and everyone should avoid outdoor activities. Refer to the descriptions below for more information based on how far you can see in various conditions:
  • Between 5-15 miles: Air quality is moderate and beginning to deteriorate, and is generally healthy, except possibly for smoke sensitive persons. The general public should avoid prolonged exposure if conditions are smoky to the point where visibility is closer to the 5 mile range. 
  • If under 5 miles: The air quality is unhealthy for young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness. These people should minimize outdoor activity. 
  • If under 3 miles: The air quality is unhealthy for everyone. Young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness should avoid all outdoor activities. 
  • If under 1 mile: The air quality is very unhealthy, and in some cases may be hazardous. Everyone should avoid all outdoor activities. 
Wildfire Smoke The content in wildfire smoke varies depending on the type of vegetation that is burning, the moisture level, fire temperature, wind and other weather related factors, and the stage of burning. Depending on these variables, wildfire smoke comprises a complex mixture of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapor, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, and various trace minerals. For the general public, the principal pollutant of concern from wildfire smoke is “particulate matter” — by which is meant the mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets that is suspended in the air. 
Health Effects  Health effects of particulate matter (PM) are related to the particulate size. Airborne particles of diameter ≤10 μm (PM10) usually irritate only the eyes, nose, and throat. Particulates from wildfire smoke tend to be of diameter <2.5 μm (PM2.5), so they can be inhaled deeply into the lungs, causing more substantial health problems, especially for those with preexisting health conditions. The duration and concentration of smoke exposure, along with patient age and degree of sensitivity, play an important role in determining whether or not someone will suffer smoke-related health problems.

Even in healthy individuals, wildfire smoke can cause: • eye irritation and dryness; • persistent cough, phlegm, wheezing, scratchy throat, irritated sinus, headache; • shortness of breath; and • pulmonary inflammation. 

Exposure to wildfire smoke can affect more seriously those with preexisting respiratory conditions such as respiratory allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition to the above symptoms, such persons may experience: • fatigue; • chest pain or discomfort; • exacerbation of their respiratory conditions; and • reductions in lung function.

Other health-related concerns — e.g., carbon monoxide poisoning or increased risk of cancer —are sometimes surfaced by members of the general public. In general, the long-term risks from short-term smoke exposures are thought to be low. Urban fire fighters exposed to smoke over an entire working lifetime have about a three-fold increased risk of lung cancer. Persons with cardiovascular disease who are exposed to wildfire smoke may experience chest pain and cardiac arrhythmias with relatively low levels of carbon monoxide. 

Sensitive Populations Certain population groups may be more sensitive to wildfire smoke exposure. These individuals may suffer more severe short-term and chronic effects. Groups that are more sensitive to wildfire smoke exposure include: • Persons with asthma or other respiratory disease* • Persons with cardiovascular disease • Persons ≥65 years of age • Children, even those without any pre-existing health illness • Smokers, especially those who have smoked for several years 

Reducing Exposure The safest thing to do is to avoid exposure to the wildfire smoke if possible. Those who are sensitive to smoke should evacuate the smoky area. For those who cannot evacuate the smoky area, strategies to decrease exposure to smoke include: staying indoors whenever possible; using air conditioners on recirculation in homes and when driving in a vehicle; using mechanical air cleaners; and minimizing other sources of exposure to airborne particulate matter — such as smoking tobacco, use of woodburning stoves, burning candles and vacuuming. 

Mask or No Mask During and after a wildfire, you will commonly see masked people around the community. You might want to know the following about masks: (1) the types of masks that are available; (2) the level of protection afforded by each type of mask; and, (3) what to tell your patients about masks. 

Wet bandanas covering the mouth, surgical masks, dust masks, and N95 respirators offer differing levels of protection from wildfire smoke. A wet bandana, and surgical and dust masks can reduce exposure to large particles from wildfire smoke, but their capacity to filter PM2.5 is limited; for these reasons, they provide little protection, especially for those who are most sensitive to wildfire smoke. 

N95 respirators are made from filtering material certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to remove 95% of fine particulates, but only if the respirator fits properly. The fit is all-important: if the mask doesn’t fit properly, air with all its particulate matter gets in around the sides of the mask and is inhaled by the hapless wearer, perhaps worse off for the false sense of protection. Those who are erroneously confident in the protective power of their masks may well spend more time outdoors, thereby increasing their exposure to smoke. To ensure that an N95 mask fits correctly, an individual must be “fit tested” — something not typically offered along with an N95 respirator at the local hardware store.  

Even healthy adults may find that the increased effort required for breathing makes wearing an N95 mask difficult and uncomfortable. Wearing a properly fitting mask necessarily increases resistance to air flow, thereby increasing the work of breathing and often the heart rate. Therefore, breathing through an N95 mask for a long period of time poses a theoretical risk for those with preexisting cardiovascular or lung disease; such persons should attempt to wear an N95 mask only under the supervision of a clinician.  

Be prepared to inform inquisitive patients about the different types of masks, the levels of protection that they provide, and the pros and the cons of each.

The mission of Jackson County Health and Human Services is to plan, coordinate and provide public services that protect and promote the health and well-being of county residents.