Is there a positive correlation between Covid-19 mortality and air pollution?, Health News, ET HealthWorld

by Kartik Singhal
Founder O2 Cure & Director Zeco Aircon

As the country stares at a grim scenario, with the 2nd wave of Covid-19 raging on, it is high time to explore the root causes of the deadly disease and the factor that aids its expansion. The scientific community has been divided over the role of air pollution in assisting the spread of the fatal disease. One thing common between air pollutants and Covid-19 is that both have a severe effect on the functionality of the human lungs and respiratory system. One thing can be positively concluded that air pollutants like dust, dander, smoke, pollen, VOCs, chemical gases, SARS-Cov-2 virus and PM do aggravate the symptoms of Covid-19 as it travels deep into our lungs and weakens the respiratory system. Besides air pollution, Covid-19 mortality also depends on comorbidities including conditions like diabetes, obesity, coronary artery disease, etc. Air pollutants can be broadly categorized into 3 according to their size- PM (0.3μm), microbial (0.01μm) and gases (0.0001μm).

Can High PM levels in the Air aggravate the severity of Covid-19 symptoms ?
Numerous researches have already been conducted on the harmful effect of prolonged exposure to a high level of pollutants. Prolong exposure to air pollutants causes the particle to settle around leading to respiratory diseases like Asthma, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), Emphysema, etc. It is to be noted that a high PM level carrier alone does not cause Covid-19 mortality, but rather increases the vulnerability to Covid-19 mortality. Some important data related to air pollution and Covid-19 is mentioned below:

  1. On average, 15% of the global death from Covid-19 may be connected to chronic exposure to a high level of air pollution.
  2. Country-wise data shows that air pollution was responsible for 27% of Covid-19 death in China, 18% in the United States, 15% in Mexico, 14% in the United Kingdom, 6% in Israel and, 1% in New Zealand.

It can be noted that an environment-friendly country like New Zealand has one of the lowest percentages of death. Is Coronavirus airborne or does it needs a carrier (air pollutants) to travel and infect
There are 2 schools of thought on it. The 1st one accepts the fact that the virus is indeed airborne and can travel through the air to infect another person. However, there is no definite evidence to prove it empirically or scientifically. As per WHO, the virus is mainly transmitted between people via respiratory droplets and surface contamination. However, this does not mean that the virus can never be spread by airborne transmission.

The 2nd school of thought considers that the coronavirus is in an aerosol form and requires a medium to reach another uninfected person. Transmission of microbes like coronavirus is facilitated through particulate matter (a major air pollutant) as it provides a medium for transmission. During sneezing or coughing, aerosol particles get attached to the particulate matter and easily travel from one person to another. The greater the no. of particles, the higher is the no. of carriers. In essence, air pollution can exacerbate the impact of Covid-19 on the population. Moreover, people already suffering from various respiratory symptoms like Asthma, Pneumonia, etc. might experience greater problems because of air pollution. Broadly speaking, air pollution multiplies the risk of Covid-19 infection because of its affinity to transport through various mediums.

One interesting example of aerosol transmission is a sneeze or a cough. A sneeze (travels at a speed of 100MPH) or a cough allows the virus to easily travel through the air because of the initial thrust. The bigger particle might drop to the surface within 4 ft. but the smaller droplets with the virus will reach another person up to 70 ft.

Healthy Air- Critical need for individual, Society and the world.
The debate around healthy air and a clean environment need to be more than an annual event of global leaders and intelligentsia. Decisive policy and actions need to be implemented on the ground level to safeguard the lives of not only the present generation but also the future one. Positive developments have taken place over the last few years but more needs to be done to reduce our vulnerability to life-threatening diseases like Covid-19 because of grave air pollution. There is an urgent need to increase the knowledge and awareness about air pollutants. Some simple steps would be to enlighten the masses about the benefits of HEPA filters and active air purification technology. A HEPA filter removes at least 99.97% of dust, dander, smoke, pollen, bacteria, or any other pollutants at particle size of 0.3microns (μm). Active air purification is gaining more acceptances nowadays in the wake of Covid-19. In this technique, charged ions neutralize the pollutants including the deadly coronavirus at the source itself by altering its DNA structure.

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