By Dina Kupfer

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — In California, more acres have burned in 2020 than any year in the past three decades, but the increase in wildfire activity is happening across the western United States.

Hazy skies and poor air quality are ailments we deal with in California every wildfire season. But as we prepare for the flu season ahead, there is another health risk to consider.

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A new study out of Montana suggests there is a link between the delayed effect of wildfire smoke and an increase in influenza cases the following winter season.

Pulmonologist Dr. Peter Murphy says there is a direct correlation between poor air quality and respiratory illness down the road.

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“Injury from particulate matter today will increase your risk of a viral infection six to nine months to a year from now,” Dr. Murphy said.

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The study out of Montana found in communities plagued by wildfire smoke the cases of asthma increased, as well as respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis, resulting in more hospitalizations.

“Cells from the lungs, when they’re exposed to air pollution, their ability to be infected with influenza is dramatically increased,” Dr. Murphy said.

Dr. Murphy says the best way to protect our health during the smoky season is to be sensible about your exposure.

“I think we can clearly limit our exposure, I mean this is not a time to be doing outdoor exercise,” Dr. Murphy said.

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Researchers in the Montana study conclude predicting flu outbreaks based on climatic and environmental factors, like wildfire smoke, may be important in public health planning in the future.