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Air pollution can increase the severity of COVID-19 infection

New research published in the journal Public Health Perspectives has revealed even more evidence of the potential health benefits associated with reducing air pollution. Previous studies showed that areas with higher pre-pandemic levels of air pollution also show higher levels of COVID-19 infection rates, but the cause was unknown. 

“The problem is that previous studies were based on reported cases, which had been diagnosed, but missed all the asymptomatic or undiagnosed cases,” said study first author Manolis Kogevinas, a researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal).

The experts measured virus-specific antibodies in a group of adults living in Catalonia and combined this with data about their exposure to air pollution. 

“This is the first study to perform mass screening of SARS-CoV-2 specific antibodies in an adult cohort to examine the association between their residential exposure to air pollution before the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 infection, and disease,” explained co-senior author Cathryn Tonne.

Of the 9,605 people who participated in the study, blood samples were taken from over 4,000 participants. Virus-specific antibodies were confirmed in 18 percent of these individuals. 

Among those who were infected, there was no correlation with exposure to air pollution. However, a positive correlation was shown between exposure to pollution and severe symptoms. 

“Our study provides the strongest evidence globally on the association of ambient air pollution and COVID-19,” said Kogevinas.

“These results are in line with the association between air pollution and hospitalization described for other respiratory diseases such as influenza or pneumonia.”

Air pollution could also contribute by favouring the development of cardiovascular, respiratory or other chronic conditions, which in turn increase the risk of severe COVID-19.

The scientists hope that this work combined with other research will help increase our understanding of COVID-19,  and especially severe cases. 

“The combination of individual genetic risks that we have previously identified in COVICAT individuals and this new data on environmental impact caused by air pollution exposure will contribute to understanding the complex interplay and mechanisms underlying the severity of COVID-19,” said Rafael de Cid of the IGTP.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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