Health advice for people affected by Lewis Pass fires

Fire on the roadside near Hanmer Springs. Source: Joanne Loe (stuff.co.nz).Vegetation fires are currently creating a number of issues for North Canterbury residents.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink says that for most people the resulting smoke may be unpleasant but carries no risk to public health.

“The smoke may irritate the eyes, nose, throat and airways. More serious symptoms can include runny or sore eyes, dry or sore throat, sore nose, cough, tightness of the chest or difficulty breathing. In healthy people, most symptoms disappear soon after exposure to smoke ends and do not cause long-term health problems.”

Smokers, the elderly, children and those with heart disease, asthma or other lung disease are at greatest risk of harm from smoke inhalation.

Ash may become airborne if strong winds occur and persist, and aggravate those with respiratory health issues. The small particles in smoke are more harmful than the larger particles because they can be inhaled deep into the lungs.

Here are some tips if you are affected by smoke from the fires:

  • Avoid exposure to smoke and ash where possible by staying indoors, and closing windows and doors.
  • Ensure roofs and water tanks that may be used for drinking water are cleaned before using, to prevent contamination with ash.
  • Wash all vegetables and fruit that may become covered in ash.
  • Wet wipe surfaces and use a HEPA filter vacuum to remove ash and large smoke particles.
  • Seek medical help if your symptoms worsen, especially if you have asthma, lung or heart disease, or if you start to experience breathlessness or chest pain.
  • Call your local GP team 24/7 if you have difficulty breathing, have a prolonged cough or tightness in their chest – they can tell you what to do and where to go if you need to be seen urgently.
  • Phone 111 in an emergency.

Get the latest updates on the Lewis Pass fires including road closures (Hurunui District Council).

Look out for one another and take care of each other

It can be normal to experience stress and anxiety during adverse events such as wild fires. Talking about how you feel to someone you trust can help.

All Right? manager Sue Turner says. “We know that going through a disaster takes a toll on all of us and coping isn’t always easy”.

“During scary events like earthquakes or fires, our brains react chemically – releasing adrenaline. This response is our natural alarm system – our body telling us to be alert and ready for action. It’s there to help us, but afterwards we can feel shaky, queasy or on-edge, and it can make it hard for us to concentrate. It can also result in strong emotional responses such as anger or crying.”

You can call the Canterbury Support Line on 0800 777 846.

Visit the All Right? website for little things we can do to look after ourselves or to get support during tough times.

Adapted from Hurunui District Council website (3rd March 2017).

Published on Friday, March 3rd, 2017, under Uncategorised
Page last updated: 14/03/2017

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