Health experts: Stay inside

Published 9:50 pm Wednesday, August 10, 2011

People with respiratory conditions should avoid smoke

As smoke from the massive fire in the Great Dismal Swamp continues to permeate the region, local health experts are warning people with respiratory conditions to stay inside and to take their medications.

“The most important thing is that if they have respiratory conditions, they should take their medications as prescribed and reduce exposure to the smoke,” said Dr. Michael Eggert, a pulmonary critical care specialist who practices at Sentara Heart Hospital.

The fire grew to about 4,700 acres by Wednesday afternoon, but still was burning within the containment box being built by firefighters, said Barb Stewart, an information officer for the fire response.

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However, the smoke is heading any way the wind blows, affecting people from Virginia Beach to Newport News to North Carolina.

Eggert urged young children, older adults and people with chronic lung conditions to stay inside, take their medications as prescribed and call their doctors if their symptoms worsen.

“There’s airway irritation when you’re exposed to smoke,” Eggert said. “Inflammation causes cough. Cough and inflammation kind of reinforce one another. Sometimes it’s hard to get that cycle stopped when it starts.”

Eggert said people planning outdoor activities should reschedule them for another day, when the smoke is blowing somewhere else.

But sometimes even staying inside doesn’t allow full escape from the smoke.

“Unfortunately your air conditioner tends to exchange air in and out of your house,” Eggert said. “Keep your house as closed as you can and keep it cool so that the heat doesn’t become an additional irritant.”

He also recommended that asthmatics should check their peak flow every day and call their doctor if they notice anything unusual about their readings.

The massive fire in the refuge now has nearly surpassed the 2008 wildfire, which scorched about 4,884 acres.

“It got into some stuff it really wanted to burn, and it did,” Stewart said on Wednesday. “It will continue to grow tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Suffolk firefighters battled a separate fire in the woods off the 8500 block of Corinth Chapel Road on Wednesday afternoon. It was reported about 2:30 p.m. Upon arrival, firefighters estimated that about three acres were burning. The blaze was declared under control at 4:45 p.m., after the fire had consumed an estimated five acres.

Units from Suffolk, Holland, Whaleyville, Carrsville and the Virginia Department of Forestry were fighting that fire.