Long-Term Health Impacts of Wildfire Exposure: A Retrospective Study Exploring Hospitalization Dynamics Following the 2016 Wave of Fires in Israel

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Abstract

Background: Climate-related events, including wildfires, which adversely affect human health, are gaining the growing attention of public-health officials and researchers. Israel has ex-perienced several disastrous fires, including the wave of fires in November 2016 that led to the evacuation of 75,000 people. The fires lasted six days (22–27 November) with no loss of life or significant immediate health impacts. The objective of this study is to explore the long-term hospitalization dynamics in a population exposed to this large-scale fire, including the effects of underlying morbidity and socio-economic status (SES). Methods: This is a retrospective crossover study, conducted in 2020, analyzing the electronic medical records of residents from areas exposed to a wildfire in northern Israel. The study spans from one year before exposure to two years after it (22 November 2015–27 November 2018). The hospitalization days during the study period were ana-lyzed using the Poisson regression model. The rate of hospitalization days along with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were plotted. Results: The study included 106,595 participants. The median age was 37 (IQR = 17–56), with a mean socio-economic ranking of 6.47 out of 10 (SD = 2.01). Analysis revealed that people with underlying morbidity were at greater risk of experiencing long-term effects following fires, which was manifested in higher hospitalization rates that remained elevated for two years post-exposure. This was also evident among individuals of low socio-economic status without these background illnesses. Conclusions: Healthcare services should prepare for increased hospitalization rates during the two years following wildfires for populations with underlying morbidity and those of low socio-economic status. Implementing preventive-medicine approaches may increase the resiliency of communities in the face of extreme climate-related events and prevent future health burdens. Additional research should focus on the specific mechanisms underpinning the long-term effects of wildfire exposure.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5012
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Volume19
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 May 2022

Keywords

  • climate change
  • healthcare utilization
  • long-term health impact
  • natural disasters
  • socio-economic factors
  • wildfires

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