In 45 years of combating forest fires, Wayne Patterson, the public information officer for the Grizzly Creek Fire burning near Glenwood Springs, has earned a keen sense of what smoke does to his body.
One immediate effect is a sore throat and some sniffles. Over the years, Patterson said he has learned to tell when the smoke causes his symptoms, rather than a cold or the flu.
But he also suspects inhaling smoke one day can lead to illness the next.
“Clearly, the smoke makes you more susceptible to those kinds of things, colds and bronchitis and all that,” he said.
In recent years, scientists have started to take a more careful look at the potential link that Patterson has long suspected. It’s no mystery people exposed to wildfire smoke make more visits to the emergency room and take more puffs from their inhalers. What’s new is a suggestion of long-term consequences.
Months after fires stop blanketing Colorado and the U.S. West in smoke this year, the people exposed could still have a higher-than-normal susceptibility to respiratory disease like the flu and — maybe — COVID-19. Read more.