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Increase in pediatric respiratory visits associated with Santa Ana wind-driven wildfire smoke and PM2.5 levels in San Diego County

TitleIncrease in pediatric respiratory visits associated with Santa Ana wind-driven wildfire smoke and PM2.5 levels in San Diego County
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsLeibel S., Nguyen M., Brick W., Parker J., Ilango S., Aguilera R., Gershunov A, Benmarhnia T.
Date Published2020/03
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1546-3222
Accession NumberWOS:000518194300013
Keywordsair-quality; bushfire smoke; Children; climate-change; cough; exposure; fine particulate matter; Fire; hospital admissions; regression; respiratory system; smoke; southern california; susceptibility; wheeze; wildfire

Rationale: There is significant evidence of increased healthcare utilization from cardiopulmonary causes in adults from exposure to wildfire smoke, but evidence in pediatric age groups is limited. Objectives: To quantify and examine the healthcare utilization effects of the December 2017 Lilac Fire in San Diego County among pediatric patients at the Rady Children's Hospital (RCH) emergency department and urgent care (UC) clinics. Methods: Using data from 2011 to 2017, including data on daily particulate matter <2.5 mu m (PM2.5) in an inverse-distance interpolation model and RCH electronic medical records, we retrospectively analyzed pediatric respiratory visits at the RCH emergency department and UC clinics during the Santa Ana wind (SAW)-driven Lilac Fire from December 7 to 16, 2017. An interrupted time series study design was applied as our primary analysis to compare the observed pediatric respiratory visits from December 7 to 16, 2017 to what would have occurred in a counterfactual situation, namely, if the Lilac Fire had not occurred. A complementary descriptive spatial analysis was also used to evaluate the geographic distribution of respiratory visits in relationship to satellite imaging of the Lilac Fire and the associated wind pattern. Results: The Lilac Fire was associated with 16.0 (95% confidence interval [CI], 11.2-20.9) excess respiratory visits per day at the RCH emergency department across all pediatric age groups. Children aged 0 to 5 years had the highest absolute excess respiratory visits per day with 7.3 (95% CI, 3.0-11.7), whereas those aged 6 to 12 years had the highest relative increase in visits, with 3.4 (95% CI, 2.3-4.6). RCH UC clinics had similar results. The top five ZIP codes in San Diego County with the highest standard deviations of age-adjusted respiratory visits were all located generally downwind of the fire perimeter, as expected for the SAW pattern. Conclusions: We have demonstrated an increase in pediatric respiratory visits during the SAW-driven Lilac Fire in San Diego County in a patterned geographic distribution that is attributable to an increase in PM2.5 exposure. Younger children were particularly affected. Climate change is expected to result in more frequent and extensive wildfires in the region and will require greater preparedness and adaptation efforts to protect vulnerable populations, such as young children.

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