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Utah doctors warn of health risks from wildfire smoke

Posted at 10:25 PM, Aug 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-08 01:55:18-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The wildfire smoke from the west coast gave Utah the worst air quality on the planet Friday.

“The air quality today is horrible,” Zabiulah Raheemi said.

“It’s horrible,” added Monica Sloano-Molina.

While doctors want everyone to stay inside, Liberty Park was busy Friday.

READ: Wildfire smoke blankets northern Utah, darkens sky

“It feels really bad. Especially running — it’s like, 'Ugh,'” Sloano-Molina said.

“I’ve been wearing my mask because I have asthma. My throat was kind of burning earlier,” said Enzo Kirby.

Utah recorded some of the highest PM 2.5 particulates ever in the state Friday.

“It is unhealthy for everybody. Don’t think that because you’re not in a sensitive group that this air pollution won’t affect you. It will,” said Intermountain Healthcare pulmonary physician Dr. Denitza Blagev.

Wildfire smoke can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, affect the immune system and make one more prone to infections, including COVID-19.

WATCH: How and when a wall of supercharged smoke arrived

It’s even worse for those with pre-existing conditions. People with lung disease can get bronchitis or pneumonia. Someone with heart disease could suffer a stroke or heart attack, according to doctors.

“Today we are really talking about the PM 2.5. Those are the fine, fine particles. Those are the ones that are small enough when you breathe in ... not only do those affect your lungs, but [they] get into the bloodstream,” said Dr. Blagev.

Doctors worry the bad air could also strain an already overwhelmed hospital system in the coming days.

Intermountain Medical Center told FOX 13 Saturday that several people have come into their emergency room over concerns from the smoke.

ER physicians say they are seeing those with underlying health issues, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, saying this smoke is exasperating their condition and making it difficult to breathe.

Doctors also say that even without an underlying condition, this smoke could cause other health issues like an increased risk for COVID-19 infection.

"It is concerning because you have all this particulate in the air, [and] it can cause irritation of the airways," said Dr. Petronella Adomako, the medical staff president at Intermountain McKay-Dee Hospital. "When your airways are irritated, it predisposes you to superimposed infection, and that could be viral infection or bacterial infections."

Utah doctors warn of health risks from wildfire smoke