Air pollution linked to far higher COVID-19 death rates, study finds

According to a new nationwide (US) study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, air pollution is linked to significantly higher rates of death in people with COVID-19 ―dirty air was already known to increase the risk of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which is extremely deadly and a cause of COVID-19-related deaths, as well as other respiratory and heart problems―.

The study is the first to look at the link between long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) ―generated largely from fuel combustion from cars, refineries, and power plants―, and the risk of death from COVID-19 in the US. Authors looked at 3,080 counties across US, comparing levels of fine particulate air pollution with coronavirus death counts for each area, by adjusting for population size, hospital beds, number of people tested for COVID-19, weather, and socioeconomic and behavioral variables such as obesity and smoking, the researchers found that a small increase ―of only 1μg/m3―, in long-term exposure to PM2.5 leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate.

In this way, someone who lives for decades in a county with high levels of fine particulate pollution is 15% more likely to die from COVID-19 than someone who lives in a region that has just one unit (one microgram per cubic meter) less of such pollution.

The study also suggests that counties with higher pollution levels could be the ones that have higher numbers of hospitalizations, higher numbers of deaths and where many of the resources should be concentrated. Besides, the new findings align with known connections between PM2.5 exposure and higher risk of death from many other cardiovascular and respiratory ailments.

In the same way, a separate report from scientists in Italy correlates the high death rates seen in the north of the country with the highest levels of air pollution.

Finally, previous work showed that air pollution exposure dramatically increased the risk of death from SARS during the 2003 outbreak.

Link to the paper:

Editorial Disclaimer: information published during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic may be updated frequently to reflect the dynamic nature of current understanding.

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