Invited Perspective: What Do We Know about Fetal–Maternal Health and Health Care Needs after Wildfires? Not Nearly Enough

Although wildfires have always been a natural and necessary element of many ecosystems, they are becoming more frequent and more severe.1 This shift can be attributed to a combination of factors, including historical fire suppression, climate change, modifications to fuel loads across the landscape, and greater development at the wildlife–urban interface, which provides more opportunities for humans to ignite fires.2

Several studies show that exposure to wildfire smoke can increase premature mortality,3 affect respiratory4 and cardiovascular5 health, and increase the risk of respiratory infections.6 Due to the large and growing literature on the impacts of air pollution on birth outcomes,7 some researchers have begun to investigate the impacts of wildfire smoke in this area as well. In addition to these physiological health effects, there is also growing evidence of significant mental health impacts of living through a wildfire event.8,9

A review in this issue of Environmental Health Perspectives by Evans et al.10 aimed to clarify what we know about birth outcomes and the health and health care needs of childbearing people during and after exposure to a wildfire. By framing the paper in this way, the authors synthesized understanding of the health impacts through both air pollution and mental health pathways—which are not always possible to distinguish during a wildfire event—and provided a holistic perspective of health outcomes for both the pregnant person and the birthed child. Read more about JPB Fellow Colleen Reid’s research.