Exposure to forest fires linked to lower birth weights, study says

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Around 48% of Georgians live in areas that are prone to wildfires, according to the States at Risk project. For pregnant mothers, this risk can be especially worrying, since inhaling smoke from these fires can cause complications in newborns.

A study published in the not-for-profit, peer-reviewed scientific journal eLife found a strong association between mothers exposed to fires during pregnancy and lower birth weights in their infants. Study participants were women who had at least two children. The study compared the birth weights between siblings and looked whether the mother was exposed to a wildfire during any of her pregnancies.

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Smoke from wildfires is filled with pollutants, and inhalation of the smoke causes various health problems. The study shows that not only does inhaling smoke from wildfires negatively affect pregnant mothers, but it impacts the child that they’re carrying too.

“Several studies have shown the effects of landscape fire smoke on acute lung and heart conditions, but the health impacts of these pollutants on susceptible pregnant women are not well known,” co-author Jiajianghui Li said in a press release. Li is a Ph.D. student at China’s Institute of Reproductive and Child Health at Peking University.

“We wanted to explore the association between birth weight and exposure to fire source pollution across several countries and over a long time period.”

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Low birth weight is when an infant is born weighing less than 5.5 pounds and can cause many other health problems. Low birth weight is associated with developmental problems, digestive issues, lower immunity, lower oxygen levels and nervous system issues, according to Stanford Children’s Health.

While wildfires are a part of the natural cycle of many ecosystems, the Environmental Protection Agency says rising temperatures and climate change contribute to a longer wildfire season and increase the fires’ severity. Additionally, research has shown that the increase in emissions can cause a host of other health issues in individuals.

Georgia’s wildfire season occurs from February to May. Georgia’s Department of Public Health recommends staying indoors, using HEPA air-cleaning filters, setting car air conditioners to recirculate when driving, avoiding vacuuming and drinking plenty of water to limit your exposure to wildfire smoke.

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