COVID-19 and wildfire smoke

Exposure to air pollution can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation and alter immune function, making it more difficult to fight respiratory infections such as COVID-19.

What is the concern?

Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of different air pollutants that can affect your health. Exposure to air pollution can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, and alter immune function, making it more difficult to fight respiratory infections such as COVID-19. 

When conditions are smoky, people who are exposed to the novel coronavirus may be more likely to develop COVID-19 and some cases of COVID-19 may become more severe.

Who is at most risk?

  • Those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or another respiratory infection.

  • Those who have pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), interstitial lung disease (ILD), or lung cancer.

  • Those who are taking chemotherapy or drugs that suppress the immune system.

  • Those who have other risk factors, which make them more susceptible to both wildfire smoke and COVID-19, such as older age, diabetes, heart disease and insecure housing.

  • Wildfire smoke exposure is also a concern for pregnant women, infants, children and socially marginalized people. 

What should you do if you have symptoms?

  • Exposure to wildfire smoke and COVID-19 can both cause respiratory symptoms such as a dry cough, sore throat or difficulty breathing.

  • Anyone experiencing severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, or chest pain should seek prompt medical attention by calling 9-1-1 or going to the nearest Emergency Department. It is safe to do so.

  • If you are experiencing mild symptoms, use the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool to help determine whether you need further assessment or testing for COVID-19.  

  • If you still have questions after using the self-assessment tool, contact your healthcare provider or call 8-1-1 for further guidance.

How can you find cleaner air during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • The best way to protect against the potentially harmful effects of wildfire is to find cleaner air, which can be challenging under strict physical distancing guidelines as public facilities such as libraries and community centres are closed.

  • Consider creating a cleaner air space at home to protect yourself from wildfire smoke during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Use a portable air cleaner in one or more rooms. Run the air cleaner continuously with doors and windows closed. 

  • Whenever possible, use air conditioners, heat pumps, evaporative coolers, fans, and window shades to keep your cleaner air space comfortably cool on hot days. 

  • If you have a forced air system in your home, talk to your service provider about different filters and settings that can be used to reduce indoor smoke. 

  • Avoid activities that create more indoor and outdoor air pollution, such as frying foods, sweeping and vacuuming and using gas-powered appliances.  

  • Get prepared for the wildfire smoke season as you would do in any other summer.

Talk to your doctor about an action plan.

  • During smoky conditions, anyone with chronic diseases such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes, as well as pregnant women, infants, children and the elderly must be especially careful. 

  • If you have a reactive respiratory or cardiovascular disease, work with your doctor to create an action plan. 

  • Always carry your rescue medications with you, make sure that you have extra at home and know what to do if your rescue medications cannot bring an attack under control. 

Take it easy when the air is smoky. 

  • The harder you breathe the more air pollution you inhale. Exercise is definitely healthy for adults and children, but smoky days are not a good time to exercise outdoors. Choose something indoors instead. 

Listen to your body. 

  • If you feel that the smoke is affecting you, try to find cleaner air for a while – like your car - until you can get home again. It is best to stay home as much as possible. Ensure your home provides consistent clean air.

Consider buying a portable air cleaner.

  • If it is smoky in your home, portable air cleaners (with HEPA filters or electrostatic precipitators) can significantly improve the air quality in small spaces when doors and windows are closed. 

  • These units cost about $150, but they might be hard to find in the middle of a smoke episode. If you know that you are sensitive to smoke, it is best to purchase one before the smoke arrives. 

  • Although portable air cleaners are great, it may be unhealthy to close your doors and windows if temperatures are high and you do not have air conditioning.

Be aware of heat-related health risks.

Wildfires often happen when it is hot outside, so it is important to be aware of heat-related risks. Here are tips to help avoid these risks:

  • Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water and encourage others to drink water as well – especially children and the elderly.

  • If you are travelling in a car with air conditioning, use it on the recirculate setting.

  • Keep track of air quality and smoke forecasts. Check daily when you know fires are burning.

For more information about protecting your health from wildfire smoke, click here.

Page Last Updated: 30/01/2021