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Wildland Fire Exposure

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Health effects attributed to wildland fire smoke are in part related to the pro-inflammatory and oxidative stress response to coarse and fine particulate matter. These particles can act as bioactive mediators and trigger an immune response (Prunicki et al., 2020). 

Our own research described below has shown an association of immune cell types, immune cytokines, and DNA-methylation of key genes with wildland fire smoke exposure. For example, we found that wildland fire smoke-exposed children in comparison to prescribed-burn exposed and non-smoke exposed children ages 6 to 8 years old had lower levels of Th1 helper cells, which are key in modulating immune responses (See Figure 1)

Figure 1. Flow cytometry phenotyping of blood from children ages 6-8. n=32 exposed to a prescribed burns vs n=36 exposed to smoke from wildfire vs n=18 healthy controls with no wildfire exposure Th1 (IFN-g+) cell % of CD 4+Tcells. Blood drawn 90 days post exposure (Prunicki et al. 2019).

In addition, we found that a cohort of adolescents exposed to a wildland fire over 60 miles away had increased interleukin-1β (IL-1β) and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels compared with controls (Figure 2), suggesting a proinflammatory state exists after acute exposure in wildland fires (M. M. Prunicki et al., 2020).  

Figure 2. Box plots for C-reactive protein (CRP), D-DIMER, interleukin 18 (IL-18), IL-1β, and myeloperoxidase for control (n=42) and wildland fire smoke-exposed  (Exposure) participants (n=25) (Prunicki et al. 2020).