The Link Between Air Pollution And Covid-19

Aditya Kondalamahanty
September 24, 2020

We are no longer fighting off pandemics, rising seas, toxic air, extreme temperatures and forest fires. We are fighting them off all at once.

Almost a year into the worldwide outbreak of Covid-19 medical science is still looking for a cure for the disease. While medicines like Remdesvir and certain steroids are helping patients, across the world, the death toll is yet to stop mounting. Now there is growing evidence of increased rates of Covid-19 in areas with high levels of fair pollution.

A study out of Harvard recently found that someone living in an area of high-particulate pollution is actually 8% more likely to die from Covid than others living in an area just one small unit less pollution.

This is not completely surprising as Covid is essentially a respiratory ailment. Health and climate experts say that higher air pollution levels in cities like Mumbai and Delhi over a prolonged period have compromised the population’s immunity, making them more susceptible to the Coronavirus.

“There is definitely a link between air pollution and the surge of Covid-19 patients in cities like Delhi and Mumbai,” said Dr Rommel Tickoo, associate director, internal medicine at Max Hospital, Delhi to The Print.

The story is the same internationally. In Italy – the country worst affected by the disease in Europe.  Northern Italy is one of the most polluted areas in Europe, where a higher level of mortality related to the Covid-19 virus was discovered. A study showed that mortality was almost three times higher in the most polluted regions compared to the rest of the country,although other causes and contributing factors could not be excluded.

Does Covid-19 spread faster in areas with bad air quality?

The main route of transmission for Coronavirus is thought to be through human respiratory droplets and surface contact. However it is now being hypothesized that particulate matter (PM) can act as potential transporter of the virus.

This came to light when a PM10 sample in Bergamo, Italy showed evidence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This is disturbing because not only is particulate matter known for its negative effects on human health, but it can possibly now also act as a disease carrier.

“The evidence we have is pretty clear that people (who) have been living in places that are more polluted over time, that they are more likely to die from Coronavirus,” said Aaron Bernstein, the director of the Center for Climate, Health and Global Environment at Harvard University. 

Bad air quality as a comorbidity

In Delhi which frequently tops the world charts on bad air quality, news reports have shown that there have been cases where a combination of respiratory infection, heart disease with Covid-19 have triggered a cardiac arrest.

While the science behind particulate matter carrying thevirus is still fuzzy, doctors say that people who suffer from bronchitis and inflammation of lungs are more prone to Covid as their lungs are already compromised.

It gets tougher to detect as well doctors say. “It takes 10-12 hours to conduct a radiological examination and an RT-PCR test todetermine whether it’s a case of asthma flare-up or Coronavirus,” Dr Akshay Budhraja, Consultant in Department of Pulmonology, Aakash Healthcare SuperSpecialty Hospital, told the New Indian Express.  

Global climate change is reverberating in many different ways on human health. The Coronavirus can be traced back to the clash between the unending human expansion into wild forests. The resultant disease is made worse by the compromised lung health of people living in congested and polluted cities. And herein lies the real danger of climate change. A reality where human wellbeing is constantly attacked by compounded disasters. We are no longer fighting off pandemics, rising seas, toxic air, extreme temperatures and forest fires. We are fighting them all at once.