Reading the smoke signals: The long-term consequences of Amazon wildfire on global health

fire amazon

(Denys Argyriou, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Christos Tsagkaris, a fifth-year medical student at the University of Crete. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


In the previous days dark clouds overwhelmed the sky of Sao Paulo delivering in a straightforward manner the news about the rainforest on fire. At the same time, Macron tweeted the urgent need of addressing the problem in the global context. In this frame serious health concerns have been expressed. As long as the wildfire lasts, respiratory conditions are on the rise and healthcare facilities are getting overwhelmed with patients suffering from Asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. However, Amazon wildfire may also be associated with long-term global health hazards, which are not well known. (1)

Wildfires pose a considerable hazard for juvenile immunity. Back in 2015 researchers from Stanford studied the development and function of T cells, an important component of the immune system in a population of children who have been exposed to Fenso wildfire. Their study suggested that children who inhaled wildfire associated nanoparticles suffered from a T regulatory cells deficit, which may lead to the development of allergies or autoimmune conditions. (2) Studies in monkeys’ populations revealed also alterations in immunity associated genes. Some of these alterations have been transferred to the monkeys’ offspring raising considerable concerns to the extent that such findings apply to people. (3)

Another considerable long-term wildfire related hazard consists of smoke exposure. Smoke exposure is a well-known morbidity and mortality factor affecting the respiratory and cardiovascular system. More than 2000 deaths are attributed to wildfire long-term exposure in the US annually. At the same time, keeping in mind the ecosystem, one can easily understand that flora and fauna is similarly affected. Disturbing the nutrition chain and the aerobiological circles results in poor harvests. Malnutrition and consumption of nutritional toxic microparticles may have a wealth of known and unknown consequences in human health. Although more research is needed in order to define the exact consequences in correlation to the time, distance and particles concentration, the hazards lists is long including cancer and cardiovascular disease among others. (4)

All in all, the Amazon wildfire appears as a global health hazard. Although the level of awareness as far as the aggravation of respiratory conditions is high, the long term consequences of wildfire exposure seems to be kind of neglected. Juvenile immunity and smoke exposure represent the direct effects of wildfire on human health. It is also crucial to keep in mind that human is also indirectly affected by ecosystems’ imbalance.

The smoke signals from the Amazon’s wildfire may soon or later disappear. However, their echoes will reverberate for a long time in the real. Deciphering them will be a painful but definitely necessary challenge.

References

  1. C.Marill, The Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke May Last a Lifetime, Wired.com (Published on June 27, 2019, Accessed on September 1, 2019, Available here)
  2. Prunicki, M. , Kelsey, R. , Lee, J. , Zhou, X. , Smith, E. , Haddad, F. , Wu, J. and Nadeau, K. (2019), The impact of prescribed fire versus wildfire on the immune and cardiovascular systems of children. Allergy. doi:10.1111/all.13825
  3. Black, C., Gerriets, J. E., Fontaine, J. H., Harper, R. W., Kenyon, N. J., Tablin, F., … Miller, L. A. (2017). Early Life Wildfire Smoke Exposure Is Associated with Immune Dysregulation and Lung Function Decrements in Adolescence. American journal of respiratory cell and molecular biology, 56(5), 657–666. doi:10.1165/rcmb.2016-0380OC
  4. The West Isn’t Ready For The Long-term Health Impacts Of Wildfire Smoke, CPR News, Published on June 25 2019, Accessed on September 1, 2019, Available here

About the author

Christos Tsagkaris is a fifth-year medical student at the University of Crete, Faculty of Medicine (Heraklion, Greece). He is affiliated with the Association of European Cancer Leagues as a Youth Ambassador for Greece. He also serves as Editor in Chief of NovelMeds students magazine, and the European Student Think Tank.

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