Long-term exposure to air pollution has been linked to an increased risk of dying from Covid-19.
The study, which was published today (October 27) in Cardiovascular Research has estimated that about 15% of worldwide deaths from Covid-19 could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.
In order to create a model to calculate the fraction of Covid deaths that can be attributed to exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5), the researchers combined satellite data with information on atmospheric conditions and ground-level pollution monitoring networks.
Using this study they found that the proportion of deaths attributable to air pollution in Europe was about 19%, in North America, it was 17% and in East Asia about 27%.
Air pollution contributed to the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the Czech Republic (29%), followed by China (27%) and Germany (26%).
In the UK, 14% of deaths were attributable to air pollution and in New Zealand just 1%.
Professor Thomas Münzel, from the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg, said: ‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘If you already have heart disease, then air pollution and coronavirus infection will cause trouble that can lead to heart attacks, heart failure and stroke.’
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