About 15% of deaths from COVID-19 worldwide could be linked to long-term exposure to air pollution, according to a study released today.
Researchers, including those at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Germany, found that in Europe, the proportion of deaths from COVID-19 linked to air pollution was around 19%, in North America by 17% and East Asia by about 27%. hundred.
The study, published in the journal Cardiovascular Research, is the first to estimate the proportion of deaths from the coronavirus that could be attributed to the exacerbating effects of air pollution for all countries around the world.
The team noted that these proportions are an estimate of the fraction of deaths from COVID-19 that could be avoided if the population were exposed to lower counterfactual air pollution levels without emissions from fossil fuels and other anthropogenic emissions – caused by the man.
This attributable fraction does not imply a direct cause-and-effect relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, the researchers said.
Instead, it refers to relationships between the two, direct and indirect, that is, worsening co-morbidities or other health problems, which could lead to fatal health consequences from the infection. viral, they said.
The researchers used epidemiological data from earlier U.S. and Chinese studies on air pollution and COVID-19 and the SARS outbreak in 2003, supported by additional data from Italy.
They combined this with satellite data showing global exposure to fine polluting particles called “ particles ” with a diameter of less than or equal to 2.5 microns (called PM2.5), information about atmospheric conditions and networks. monitoring ground pollution.
The researchers created a model to calculate the fraction of coronavirus deaths that could be attributed to long-term exposure to PM2.5.
The results are based on epidemiological data collected up to the third week of June 2020, and researchers say a full assessment will need to follow once the pandemic subsides.
Estimates for individual countries show, for example, that air pollution contributed to 29% of coronavirus deaths in the Czech Republic, 27% in China, 26% in Germany, 22% in Switzerland and 21% in Belgium.
“Since the number of deaths from COVID-19 is constantly increasing, it is not possible to give the exact or final number of deaths from COVID-19 by country that can be attributed to air pollution,” said Professor Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.
“However, as an example, in the UK there have been more than 44,000 deaths from coronaviruses and we estimate the fraction attributable to air pollution to be 14%, which means that more than 6,100 deaths could be attributed to air pollution, ”said Lelieveld.
“In the United States, more than 220,000 deaths from COVID with a fraction of 18% result in approximately 40,000 deaths attributable to air pollution,” he said.
Professor Thomas Munzel from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany noted that when people inhale polluted air, very small pollutant particles, PM2.5, migrate from the lungs to the blood and blood vessels, causing inflammation. and severe oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between free radicals and oxidants in the body that normally repair damage to cells.
“This damages the inner lining of the arteries, the endothelium, and leads to narrowing and stiffening of the arteries. The COVID-19 virus also enters the body through the lungs, causing similar damage to blood vessels, and it is now considered be an endothelial disease, Mr. Munzel said.
“If long-term exposure to air pollution and infection with the COVID-19 virus combine, we have an additive adverse effect on health, especially with regard to the heart and blood vessels, which leads to greater vulnerability and less resilience to COVID -19, ”he says.
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