As Americans everywhere continue taking measures to protect themselves from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, those on the west coast of the United States, who are also currently facing extreme conditions due to wildfires, could find themselves at increased risk of exposure to the virus due to the current conditions.

Studies now show that those who are continually exposed to bad air quality from the wildfires and smoke could actually become more vulnerable to coronavirus infections, as exposure of lung tissue to pollution can increase how susceptible to viral infections as a whole, especially those in the lung.

“Multiple studies have shown a correlation between higher levels of pollution in the air and greater spread and severity of Covid-19 cases,” Dr, Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer of the Los Angeles county-USC Medical Center told CNN.

The smoke from the fires can irritate the lungs and cause inflammation that affects the immune system, Dr. Rekha Murthy, an infectious disease specialist and vice president of medical affairs at Cedars-Sinai Hospital said.

“Whenever the lining of the lung or the airways become inflamed or damaged, it increases the potential for inhaled viral particles to take hold in the lungs and cause infection,” she said.

The news of increased vulnerability to infection isn’t good for residents in the areas largely affected by the large swath of fires along the western coast of the United States, as California in particular has had a hard time containing the coronavirus. While numbers have once again started to go down, California holds the record for the number of positive cases in the United States, currently sitting at 757,200 since the pandemic began. In terms of deaths from the virus, it falls behind only New York, New Jersey and Texas.

Scenes near Shaver Lake in Pineridge, California as wildfires ravage the US West Coast
Experts are worried of potential flash flooding due to monsoon rains, as well as lightning strikes further igniting new fires in the west. AFPTV / Pierrick LEURENT