Air pollution is known to cause heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema and is responsible for about seven million premature deaths every year.
This underlying health damage means long-standing air pollution in cities is likely to increase the death rate from respiratory infections, such as coronavirus.
|Long-standing air pollution in cities is likely to increase the death rate from respiratory infections, such as coronavirus.|
Is Air Pollution Increasing the Coronavirus Mortality Rate?
Air Pollution is Linked to Coronavirus Mortality Rate
The World Health Organization (WHO) officials have said that elevated levels of air pollution can prove to be a risk factor for serious cases of COVID-19.
Two recent studies have revealed a link between higher air pollution and higher rates of coronavirus diseases. One of these studies is from researchers at Harvard University.
According to Dr. Maria Neira, the Director of the Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health Department of the World Health Organisation, "If countries have high levels of pollution then it is important to consider this aspect in their fight with COVID-19. This is because the death rate of coronavirus patients is likely to increase due to air pollution.
"We are watching the whole situation in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Based on our database, we are mapping the most polluted cities so that governments can be supported in these areas. With this, they can prepare properly to deal with coronavirus pandemic," she said.
Medical professionals agree that it is too early to say there is a connection between COVID-19 and high air pollution levels.
But, medical professionals in some countries say that they have seen some patients who were already suffering from air pollution based diseases and then they have become a victim of severe coronavirus infection.
Deaths due to air pollution
The World Health Organization estimates that around seven million deaths occur every year due to air pollution.
According to the World Bank's report on the global distribution of air pollution released last year, many of the countries affected by air pollution are countries in South Asia, Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa.
Several reports from the World Health Organization and the UN Environment have also found dangerous levels of air pollution in Latin American countries like Chile, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru.
A study by Harvard University on the effect of prolonged air pollution has shown that a slight increase in pollution levels in the first years of the pandemic could lead to a 15% increase in the death rate of COVID-19.
In this study, done on most parts of the USA, the air pollution levels and census data of the entire country were compared with the COVID-19 Mortality Analytical Data of Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
According to the findings of researchers at Harvard University TH Chan School of Public Health, the death rate is higher in places where fine particles, called PM 2.5, have a higher density.
A Harvard University report noted, "the death rates due to coronavirus infection typically appear on both patterns of higher PM 2.5 exposure areas and high population density".
Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is an air pollutant that has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3% the diameter of a human hair.
PM 2.5 are fine particles that can reach the lungs and arteries through the breath. They have also been linked to health problems like respiratory infections and lung cancer earlier.
The study has not yet been reviewed by other institutions, but Prof. Dr. Annette Peters Director of the Institute of Epidemiology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany, said the findings are plausible.
"These findings are on the lines of previous reports based on hospitalization and deaths due to pneumonia," he told the BBC.
"This is one of the first studies that confirms our skepticism and hypothesis that the severity of coronavirus infection can be linked to air pollution," he said.
Another study focused on Northern Italy. This study also revealed that there may be a relation between high air pollution and the high death rate of COVID-19 patients.
The study was done by researchers from the University of Siena in Italy and Aarhus University in Denmark.
Official figures in Italy show that the rate of deaths due to COVID-19 in Lombardy and Emilia Romagna areas as of March 21 was around 12%, while for the rest of Italy the figure was only 4.5%.
The study, published in Science Direct, states that "high levels of pollution in northern Italy can be considered as an additional cause of more deaths due to COVID-19 in this region."
It also states that other reasons such as diversity in population, age, different health systems and prevention policies in regions should also be seen.