Long-term exposure to urban air pollution may increase COVID-19 fatalities



The causal link between air pollution and COVID-19 cases is yet to be established conclusively but long-term exposure will make people more vulnerable to lung infections, warn scientists as the skies over large parts of north India, including Delhi, turn smoky and the air quality deteriorates rapidly.

Their concerns come amid several global studies pointing to the connection between higher air pollution levels and increased COVID-19 cases and deaths.

A study by researchers at Harvard University in the US in September showed that an increase of only one microgram per cubic metre in PM 2.5 is associated with an 8 per cent increase in the COVID-19 death rate.

Given the current limited literature, the surge of PM 2.5 level in Delhi may be associated with increased COVID-19 cases. Although the literature is relatively sparse at this stage, Xiao Wu, corresponding author of the Harvard study, told PTI.

He said the relationship between long-term air pollution and COVID-19 has been documented in many studies, which show that adverse health impacts of air pollution can make people prone to the infection or exacerbate the severity of COVID-19 symptoms once infected.

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Another study by the University of Cambridge in April found an association between living in an area of England with high levels of air pollution and the severity of COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Based on our findings, I would expect to see an association between higher levels of air pollution in India and COVID-19 in the winter, similar with what we found in England, said Marco Travaglio, corresponding author of the Cambridge study.

If the levels of air pollution have been consistently above the legal limits for several months or years before this coming winter, I would expect to see a relationship between those levels and COVID-19 burden across different parts of India in November and thereafter, Travaglio told PTI.

He noted that a key component of PM 2.5 toxicity is its composition, which may vary considerably between countries.