Dirty air is well known to worsen the heart and lung risk factors for Covid-19 – early research is cause for concern
Damian CarringtonLast modified on Mon 4 May 2020 09.51 BST
In many respects, it makes perfect sense.
Patients with severe Covid-19 are twice as likely to have had pre-existing respiratory diseases and three times as likely to have had cardiovascular problems.
And decades of gold standard research have shown air pollution damages hearts and lungs.
So is dirty air, which already kills at least 7 million people a year, turbo-charging the coronavirus pandemic?
The overlap of highly polluted places, such as northern Italy, and pandemic hotspots is stark and preliminary studies point in this direction, while a link between the 2003 Sars outbreak and dirty air is already known.
Confirming the impact of air pollution on the severity of Covid-19 could make a real difference by showing the response should be boosted in places with poor air quality. But doing the scientific studies required in the midst of a global pandemic and with imperfect data is difficult.
“We don’t have the evidence linking directly to mortality yet, but we know if you are exposed to air pollution you are increasing your chances of being more severely affected,” said Dr María Neira, director of public health at the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We are starting to give messages to countries and regions saying, if you are starting to have cases, in those cities where you have a high level of pollution, reinforce your level of preparedness, because you might have a higher mortality.”
The principal risk of catching Covid-19 is contact with an infected person, and the quality of healthcare is vital in determining the outcome.
But air pollution may be important in three ways, studies show. Higher death rates due to lungs and hearts weakened by dirty air is the best understood. Pollutants also inflame lungs, potentially making catching the virus more likely and raising concern about rising pollution levels after lockdowns are lifted. Finally, particles of pollution might even help carry the virus further afield.
The studies done so far around the world are mostly “pre-prints” – they have not yet been endorsed by independent scientists through the peer-review process. This involves several experts examining the work and requiring any flaws to be addressed but approval usually takes six months to two years.
Researchers caution that plausibility is far from proof, and correlation does not necessarily mean causation, as many other factors may be important. But these initial findings do raise cause for concern – and may play a crucial role in helping us understand and combat the spread of the pandemic.
One US study, by a well-respected group at Harvard University, found that air pollution is linked to far higher Covid-19 death rates across the nation. Another, analysing European data, concluded that high levels of pollution may be “one of the most important contributors” to coronavirus deaths, while a third hinted at the link in England.
Is air pollution making the coronavirus pandemic even more deadly? | The Guardian
Dirty air is well known to worsen the heart and lung risk factors for Covid-19 – early research is cause for concern Damian CarringtonLast modified on Mon 4 May 2020 09.51 BST In many respects, it makes perfect sense. Patients with severe Covid-19 are twice as likely to have had pre-existing respiratory diseases and three… [Read More]