Does smoke exposure increase firefighters’ susceptibility to COVID-19? It’s possible, UNC researcher says


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Firefighters save lives, homes, and businesses, but researchers say their exposure to smoke and air pollution can increase their risk of health problems.  

“Our evidence, thus far, would suggest part of those health effects would be increased susceptibility to a viral infection,” explained Dr. David Peden, senior associate dean for translational research at UNC School of Medicine.

Peden studies the effects of air pollutants, including smoke on the human body. 

“We certainly haven’t done this with COVID,  but we’ve done this with a variant of influenza,” he said. “What we have found is exposure to particulates similar to wood smoke actually changes and increases the likelihood that one may have an inflammatory response — in other words have a bad outcome, or a worse outcome related to the viral infection.  

Now scientists want to learn about the effects on another virus,  COVID-19.

“With us, and worldwide, there’s significant interest in how air pollutants and environmental factors modify the risk of COVID,” said Peden. “That’s a fancy way of saying whether or not someone’s going to get sicker if they get COVID and are they more likely to get it.” 

Researchers at UNC will be working with other scientists to find those answers. They’re also looking at ways to protect people from air pollution.

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