The Covid-19 pandemic highlights the urgent need to control air pollution, warns a group of international researchers.
In one of the most prominent studies to date, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that each small (1 ?g/m3) increase of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) was associated with an 8% increase in mortality during the pandemic.
The exact reason behind the association between long-term pollution and poor Covid-19 outcomes are not fully known, however, scientists have suggested that long-term exposure to air pollution may impair the immune system, leading both to increased susceptibility to viruses and to more severe viral infections.
The researchers have also highlighted that racially and ethnically diverse communities are more likely to be located in areas closer to industrial pollution such as PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide, and to work in types of businesses that expose them to more air pollution. These inequalities in residential and occupational air pollution exposure may be one of the causes of the stark disparities of the Covid-19 pandemic along racial and ethnic lines.
Stephen Andrew Mein, MD, a physician in BIDMC’s Department of Medicine, said: ‘A multitude of studies show that exposure to higher long-term ambient air pollution is associated with both increased risk of infection and death from Covid-19.
‘Historically, air pollution has been linked with worse health outcomes, including higher mortality, due to other respiratory viruses like influenza. Now, new research on Covid-19 adds further evidence of the adverse effects of ambient air pollution and the urgent need to address the public health crisis of pollution.’
Mary Rice, senior author of the commentary said: ‘Research evaluating associations between the dramatic reduction in ambient air pollution during global lock-downs and health care utilization for respiratory conditions would further confirm the impact of ambient air pollution on non-communicable diseases and the need to reduce air pollution to improve overall health.
‘While the primary association between air pollution and Covid-19 outcomes has been generally consistent, there is still much research to be done.
‘In particular, there is a need for studies that adjust for individual-level risk factors, since current studies have been restricted to county or municipal-level exposure and outcome data. Research is also needed to evaluate whether air pollution contributes to the stark differences in Covid-19 outcomes among communities of colour.’
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