Warning For India: Air Pollution Linked With 15% COVID-19 Deaths Worldwide, Says Study

Berlin: COVID-19 deaths are linked to air pollution. Researchers, including those from Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Germany, attribute about 15 per cent of deaths worldwide from COVID-19 to long-term exposure to air pollution.

According to the study published on Tuesday, in Europe the proportion of COVID-19 deaths linked to air pollution was about 19 per cent, in North America it was 17 per cent, and in East Asia about 27 per cent, NDTV reported quoting PTI.

The study was published in the journal ‘Cardiovascular Research’. These proportions are an estimate of the fraction of COVID-19 deaths that could be avoided if the population were exposed to lower counterfactual air pollution levels without fossil fuel-related and other anthropogenic – caused by humans – emissions, the report added.

However, this does not imply a direct cause-effect relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, the researchers said. The direct and indirect effect could be aggravating co-morbidities and other health conditions, possibly leading to fatal health outcomes of the virus infection, they said, the report added.

The researchers used epidemiological data from previous US and Chinese studies of 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 polluting fine particles known as ‘particulate matter’ that are less than or equal to 2.5 microns in diameter (known as PM2.5), information on atmospheric conditions and ground-based pollution monitoring networks.

What happens when we inhale polluted air?

Professor Thomas Munzel from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany noted that when people inhale polluted air, the very small polluting particles, the 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, the report said.

“This causes damage to the inner lining of arteries, the endothelium, and leads to the narrowing and stiffening of the arteries. The COVID-19 virus also enters the body via the lungs, causing similar damage to blood vessels, and it is now considered to be an endothelial disease,” Munzel was quoted as saying in the report.

“If both long-term exposure to air pollution and infection with the COVID-19 virus come together then we have an additive adverse effect on health, particularly with respect to the heart and blood vessels, which leads to greater vulnerability and less resilience to COVID-19,” he added.

Worldwide figures of air pollution-induced COVID deaths

Air pollution contributed to 29 per cent of coronavirus deaths in the Czech Republic, 27 per cent in China, 26 per cent in Germany, 22 per cent in Switzerland, and 21 per cent in Belgium.

“Since the numbers of deaths from COVID-19 are increasing all the time, it’s not possible to give exact or final numbers of COVID-19 deaths per country that can be attributed to air pollution,” said Professor Jos Lelieveld from Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in the report.

“However, as an example, in the UK there have been over 44,000 coronavirus deaths and we estimate that the fraction attributable to air pollution is 14 per cent, meaning that more than 6,100 deaths could be attributed to air pollution,” Lelieveld was quoted as saying.

“In the US, more than 220,000 COVID deaths with a fraction of 18 per cent yields about 40,000 deaths attributable to air pollution,” he said.

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