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B.C. wildfire: Health authorities dealing with ‘surge’ in smoke-related cases

Click to play video: 'Growing health concerns over forest fire smoke in Metro Vancouver' Growing health concerns over forest fire smoke in Metro Vancouver
Wed, Aug 2: There are growing concerns about air quality in southwestern B.C. due to smoke from forest fires. – Aug 2, 2017

B.C. health workers are dealing with a “surge” in cases related to smoke from the province’s wildfires.

The spike is related to the combination of heat and poor air quality, according to deputy provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“We monitor the number of people who are getting Ventolin, which is a prescription rescue medication for asthma, and we monitor ambulance calls for respiratory issues, and we have some monitoring in some emergency departments, and yes, we’ve been seeing an increase in all of those.”

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver air quality worse than Beijing: St. Paul’s respirologist

Much of B.C.’s Interior, along with Whistler, Howe Sound, Vancouver Island, and the Central Coast are under a smoky skies advisory, while Metro Vancouver is under an air quality advisory due to fine particulate matter.

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Henry said the increase in cases is particularly acute in the heavily populated Lower Mainland area, which is also in the midst of a heat wave.

“We’ve seen an increase in some areas, depending on the day and the time of day, the increase can be from 20 per cent to 50 per cent more than we’ve seen in the past 10 years in the same area.”

WATCH: A smoke-filled Okanagan Valley causing health concerns among many residents.

Click to play video: 'A smoke-filled Okanagan Valley causing health concerns among many residents.' A smoke-filled Okanagan Valley causing health concerns among many residents.
A smoke-filled Okanagan Valley causing health concerns among many residents – Aug 4, 2017

Earlier this week, paramedics also reported a two per cent jump in 911 calls related to breathing issues.

Henry said there have been no reports of facilities being overwhelmed by the increase in cases.

READ MORE: Air quality advisory, heat wave warning continues for B.C. south coast

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However, she said health authorities are monitoring the situation closely and have communicated best practices to staff, while the BC Ambulance Service has been careful to ensure staffing levels are adequate.

Henry said health authorities are also communicating with the public about the best ways to stay cool and safe.

READ MORE: Wildfire smoke clouding out busiest weekend of the summer for rental businesses

Young children, the elderly and people with respiratory illnesses are most at risk from the poor air quality.

Earlier this week, Vancouver Coastal Health advised people to limit heavy outdoor activities and to go to a doctor if they experience difficulty breathing, chest pain, or sudden onsets of coughing or irritation to the airways.

Tips to stay cool amid the heat and smoke

  • Use common sense regarding outdoor physical activity – if your breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce the activity.
  • Stay cool and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Smoke levels may be lower indoors, however levels of smoke particles will still be increased. If you stay indoors, be aware of your symptoms.
  • Consider visiting a location like a shopping mall with cooler, filtered air. Keep in mind that staying indoors may help you stay cool and provide some relief from the smoke, however many air conditioning systems do not filter the air or improve indoor air quality.
  • Reduce indoor pollution sources such as smoking or burning other materials.
  • You may be able to reduce your exposure to smoke by moving to cleaner air. Conditions can vary dramatically by area and elevation.
  • Residents with asthma or other chronic illness should activate their asthma or personal care plan.

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