A study from Mexico shows that inhaling smoke from an indoor wood stove can be as unhealthy as smoking cigarettes. The problem affects mainly women in developing countries.
Researchers at Mexico's National Institutes of Respiratory Diseases have found that women who cook over a stove using wood, animal dung, crop waste or coal as fuel can develop chronic lung disease and suffer the same consequences as tobacco users.
Physician Alejandra Ramirez-Venegas and colleagues led a seven-year study of nearly 500 patients whose breathing passages were damaged from emphysema and bronchitis because they had inhaled eitsher smoke from biomass stoves or tobacco smoke for years. Ramirez says the women who regularly used poorly ventilated indoor stoves experienced the same health symptoms, reduced quality of life, and increased death rates as tobacco users.
"The most important finding was that when we compared mortality, both groups were similar. So this is a big problem. The impact on mortality is similar to smokers," she said.
Indoor cooking using biomass as fuel does not make as many people sick as tobacco smoking. But the World Health Organization says more than half the world's population cooks this way, causing almost three percent of all chronic obstructive lung disease cases and more than one-and-a-half million deaths each year.
In addition to being a health issue, Ramirez says it is a gender issue.
"Mainly women are affected because tshey spend a long time in direct contact with this type of fumes while cooking. In the rural areas, patients cook around six to eight hours per day over many years," she said.
Ramirez's findings appear in the February issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine published by the American Thoracic Society.