Smoke haze link to heart problems

Pic of Dr Anjali Haikerwal. Photo by Damjan Janevski. 204051_01

by Goya Dmytryshchak

Bushfire smoke haze may increase the number of cardiac arrests and other heart problems across Victoria and further afield, according to latest findings.

Williamstown’s Anjali Haikerwal, whose doctorate examined health impacts of the 2006-07 Victorian bushfires, found that just two days of exposure to small particulate matter (PM2.5) was associated with increased risk of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and hospital admissions for cardiovascular problems.

Microscopic PM2.5 pollution is about a third the width of a human hair, or smaller than a speck of dust, and is inhaled straight into the lungs and bloodstream.

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

Using statewide data from the Victorian Ambulance Cardiac Arrest Registry and Department of Health and Human Services, Dr Haikerwal found a nearly seven per cent increase in out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and about two per cent increase in emergency department visits and hospitalisations for acute cardiac events.

People aged 65 and over and men were the most vulnerable.

Her findings were published in the prestigious Journal of the American Heart Association.

She said more research was needed into medium to long-term health impacts of smoke exposure from intense bushfires burning for days and weeks as witnessed recently.

“It’s very unprecedented at present – the smoke haze which has lingered on in Melbourne and neighbouring places and Victoria for days,” Dr Haikerwal said.

“In recent weeks, most parts of Australia have been shrouded in bushfire smoke for days with very poor to hazardous air quality – high levels of small particulate matter PM2.5 – reported in many cities and towns.

“And the most important thing is the levels of these harmful particulate matter – they have been in the atmosphere for weeks now and at levels which are very harmful to a human body.”

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