Scientists at the University of Cambridge have linked deaths in coronavirus hotspots such as London and the Midlands with exposure to high levels of air pollution.
The paper, which you can read here, has not yet been peer-reviewed, but it’s the latest contribution to a body of evidence that links exposure to air pollutants to the deadliest effects of the virus.
Researchers from the MRC Toxicology Unit at the University of Cambridge analysed the data on total coronavirus cases and deaths from seven regions in England against the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), collected between the years 2018 and 2019, before the virus hit the country.
When the team compared the annual average of daily NOx and NO2 levels to the total number of coronavirus cases in each region, they found that the higher the pollutant levels, the greater the number of coronavirus cases and deaths.
This was particularly true across London and the Midlands, where concentrations of NO2 were the highest.
The researchers say that their findings only show a correlation and that further research is needed to confirm that air pollution makes coronavirus worse.
Marco Travaglio, a PhD student at the MRC Toxicology Unit, said: ‘Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England.
‘London, the Midlands and the North West show the largest concentration of these air pollutants, with Southern regions displaying the lowest levels in the country, and the number of COVID-19 deaths follows a similar trend.’
Dr Miguel Martins, senior author on the study, added: ‘Our study adds to growing evidence from Northern Italy and the USA that high levels of air pollution are linked to deadlier cases of COVID-19.
‘This is something we saw during the previous SARS outbreak back in 2003, where long-term exposure to air pollutants had a detrimental effect on the prognosis of SARS patients in China. This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.’
Last month, scientists at Harvard University suggested that just a small increase in long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) leads to a large increase in coronavirus death rate.
It’s believed that because exposure to air pollution is known to damage the heart and lungs, it increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe coronavirus outcomes.