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The Ministry of Health of Belize advises the general public that due to recent bush fires, particularly in the Cayo District and communities along the George Price Highway, there is a risk for vulnerable individuals to experience over exposure to smoke.

The smoke is made up of tiny particles and gases and when these are breathed into the lungs, they can cause asthma attacks, worsen chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and chest pains in some people with heart disease. It also has the potential to irritate eyes and trigger prolonged coughing spells. Individuals with chronic lung conditions and asthma in particular are advised to avoid areas with intense smoke if possible. In the event that one cannot avoid the smoke, the use of masks or wet rags may alleviate effects.

The San Pedro Town Council has made a similar announcement for Ambergris Caye in which they kindly advise the general public that any type of burning is an offense and that burning of any type of garbage is completely prohibited in residential areas since it is a health hazard and puts at risk any buildings in the surrounding area. Island residents are urged to report any type of burning in private property that is a nuisance to the public; reports can be made to the San Pedro Fire Department by calling 206-2372.

In addition to smoke exposure, intense heat may also be experienced in Belize during the summer months. The public is reminded of the advice on heat stroke: drink sufficient water, dress adequately and keep in the shade as much as possible. Signs of heat stroke include red skin, fever, seizures, headache, a rapid pulse and sometimes unconsciousness. Respiratory distress and heat stroke are medical emergencies. Anyone exhibiting the signs and symptoms of either of these conditions should be taken to the nearest health center or hospital immediately.

The Ministry of Health advises those individuals at most risk, mainly children and elderly persons, to stay indoors and avoid strenuous physical activities. All individuals should reduce prolonged activities outdoors.

The poor air quality may continue for an unpredictable time as the country is at the peak of the dry season when the ignition of fires is common. Persons engaging in any form of burning during this dry season is advised to exercise care to contain the fire at source and put out any fire that shows sign of possible spread.

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Dorian Nuñez

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