Health advice for residents affected by Tai Tapu/Port Hills fires

A line of flames burns across the Port Hills. Source: Stuff.co.nz.Vegetation fires are currently creating a number of issues for Canterbury residents.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey 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 respiratory or lung disease are at greatest risk of harm from smoke inhalation. Christchurch Hospital had two people present to the Emergency Department for breathing problems exacerbated from smoke during the fires.

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

  • Avoid exposure where possible by staying indoors, and closing windows and doors.
  • 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.

Free GP visits are being offered to people affected by the Port Hills fires – at the discretion of their General Practice team. This includes people who worked on or are still working on fire control and recovery operations. This offer is open until 13th April 2017 – two months from the day the fire started.

Get the latest updates on the Tai Tapu/Port Hills fires including road closures (Christchurch City Council).

Smoky smells in homes are no threat to your health

Residents affected by the Port Hills fires are being reassured the smell of smoke in their properties presents no serious threat to health.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey says while many people returning to their houses will notice a strong smoky smell lingering, it does not present any long term harm to people’s health. “While those returning to their homes may find the smell distressing, it presents no immediate harm to health.”

Look out for one another and take care of each other

Dr Humphrey is also encouraging people remember to look out for their neighbours, especially the elderly, or those with disabilities and make sure they’re ok. “Canterbury has been hit hard with its fair share of disasters, so many people will understandably be feeling overwhelmed and in shock. We all need to remember to look out for one another and take care of each other.”

Dr Humphrey acknowledged Canterbury has been hit hard with its fair share of disasters in the last half decade, so many people will understandably be feeling overwhelmed and in shock. “We all need to remember to look out for one another and take care of each other.

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

“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.”

Sue says this is normal and can be eased with doing some light physical activity, taking up a small chore or task and by focusing on some calm breathing for 10 seconds. “Returning home after an evacuation can be a difficult and emotional experience. It is normal for people to have conflicting emotions as a result of returning home.

“Experience and research tell us that the impacts of disasters go on for a long time. You need to pace yourself. Go slow and steady, and look after yourself and your relationships.

“Recovering from disaster can be a stressful, overwhelming time. By taking care of yourself and your loved ones, remembering that this will take a long time, celebrating the small wins, and asking for help when you think you need it you’ll give yourself a good chance of a good recovery.”

Sue says recovery takes a long time, and most people will recover well with strong, positive support from friends and family.

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

Sources: Canterbury DHB media releases (16th and 17th February 2017).

Published on Friday, February 17th, 2017, under Uncategorised
Page last updated: 06/03/2017

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