Air quality health issues will linger long after SoCal wildfires get under control, experts say

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
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As the wildfires raged on in Southern California, many patients at Adventist Health in Glendale and Simi Valley sought advice on how to handle the smoky conditions, especially during flu season.

GLENDALE, Calif. (KABC) -- When 70-year-old Donna Hovartos, of Glendale, walked into the Joslyn Senior Center in Burbank, she felt great relief since the smoky outdoors made her miserable.

"I started getting headaches and the sinuses started hurting and I could smell smoke. I could smell the burn," Hovartos said.

She's had a cough and sore throat for days.

At Adventist Health in Glendale and Simi Valley, emergency room visits were up and hospital beds full. Pulmonologist Zulfiqar Ahmed handled patient calls all weekend.

"It's a more difficult time for these patients," he said.

Amid the smoky conditions, there's an increase in flu activity, and resources are stretched thin.

Ahmed advised all his lung patients to take precautions.

"Stay in. Turn the air conditioner on, and if you have any symptoms just call your doctors right away," Ahmed said.

Doctors don't expect the health problems to end anytime soon. Pulmonary experts said toxic fine particulate matter can linger in the air for weeks after the wildfires.

"We anticipate patients having a lot of problems, and we are prepared for that," Ahmed said.

If you have to be outdoors, Ahmed advised wearing a NIOSH-rated mask labeled N95 or P95.

"The mask comes in different sizes. Small, medium and large. It has to be the proper size," he said.

Hovartos said she is staying indoors and trying to stay as healthy as possible.

"You just do the best you can. Try to take care of yourself. Watch what you eat," she said.

Experts said wash your hands since you're going to spend more time indoors with lots of people.