While the impact of directly surviving bushfires that threaten life and property has been reasonably well researched, less is known about the effects of exposure to bushfire smoke, said Prof Iain Walker of the Australian National University.
Walker is the co-author of a new study that has found the physical and mental impacts of exposure to smoke from the black summer fires was likely greatly underestimated by official health statistics.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, surveyed 2,084 adults affected by the bushfires close to Canberra.
Virtually all of them – 97% – said they had experienced at least one physical symptom attributed to the smoke. Half of respondents reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as sleep loss.
Only one in five people sought medical attention for their symptoms, suggesting the breadth of health impacts was far greater than the number of cases officially recognised by the health system, Walker said. “A much wider segment of the population was exposed to bushfire smoke than bushfires directly.”