Wednesday, 29 July 2015

SPHPM researchers investigate correlations between air pollution from wildfires and cardiovascular health

SPHPM’s Dr Anjali Haikerwal, Dr Muhammad Akram, Mr Anthony Del Monaco, Dr Karen Smith, Professor Malcolm Sim, Professor Andrew Tonkin, Professor Michael Abramson, Dr Martine Dennekamp and Dr Mick Meyers have co-authored a paper, investigating the association between particulate pollution from wildfires and acute cardiovascular health outcomes.  

The 2015 study, published by the Journal of the American Heart Association, has sought to explore the association between exposure to small particulate pollutants found in wildfire smoke and the risk of acute cardiac event in Victoria between December 2006 and January 2007. This period saw smoke reaching areas far from the original source of the fire, with the fine particulate air pollutant level exceeding the recommended air quality limits.

Previous research has suggested that small particulate pollutants are significantly harmful, as it can enter deep into the lungs and lead to adverse health impacts.

The researchers utilised a time stratified crossover study design. The data being analysed was acquired from Victorian Ambulance Cardiac Arrest Registry from Ambulance Victoria and from the Department of Health and Human Services. Modelled air quality data was also obtained for the study period from CSIRO, Melbourne.

The researchers found that for an increase from the 25th to 75th percentile in particulate concentration over two days, after adjusting for temperature and humidity, there was a:
  • 6.98 per cent increase in out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, with a stronger association between pollution and cardiac arrests in men and people 65 and older;
  • 2.07 per cent increase in emergency department visits for acute cardiac events; and
  • 1.86 per cent increase in hospitalisations for acute cardiac events, with a stronger association in women and people 65 and older. 

“These particles may act as a trigger factor for acute cardiovascular events, therefore it’s important to not delay seeking medical help if you experience symptoms of heart problems during smoke episodes from wildfires,” Dr Haikerwal said.

Given the increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires experienced worldwide in recent years, it’s important to understand the impact of wildfire smoke exposure on acute health effects in the community. Further research is needed to inform policy and practice.

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