Is environmental pollution an ally of COVID-19? It probably is. Some preliminary studies point to a correlation between coronavirus and air-polluting particles in large cities such as Madrid or the Lombardy region of northern Italy, as well as a link to their mortality


Around the world we talk about pollution and its relationship with Covid-19, you can already talk about different research, focused mainly on Italy, China and the USA, which show how areas especially affected by COVID-19 are linked to worse environmental conditions.

This was stated by Isabel Urrutia, a pneumologist at the Galdakao-Usansolo hospital in Bilbao and a member of the Spanish Society of Pneumology and Chest Surgery (SEPAR) during the virtual seminar that this society has organized in collaboration with the associations of health journalists (ANIS) and environmental (APIA).

During his speech he showed a study in which the photo of pollution in northern Italy coincides almost exactly with the photo of those areas of this country where there has been a higher incidence of the pandemic.

The work Air Pollution and Novel Covid-19 Disease: a putative Disease Risk factor has analyzed the high spread of COVID in Northern Italy.

Its authors have observed that the presence of solid particle compounds and liquids due to contamination allows the virus to float in the air longer and to move at greater distances.

In addition, the rate of activation of the virus increases in areas with higher relative humidity and decreases in warm climates.

Pollution and COVID-19

In the same sense, the Chinese research Association between short-term exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 infection: Evidence concludes that there is an association between pollution and COVID-19 infection.

This peschisa shows the pollution photo of 20 Chinese cities, and the cities most affected by the coronavirus are practically those same polluted cities.

Researchers have also associated the increase in polluting particles (10 microns per cubic meter) with increased mortality.

"Specifically, the increase in NO2 (Nitrogen Dioxide) meant higher COVID mortality."

But the question, according to Dr. Urrutia, is whether you can think that in the most polluted areas, those infected with the coronavirus and who develop viral pneumonia are going to die more.

Another work focusing on 63 administrative regions in Spain, France, Germany and Italy has studied the concentration of NO2 in the troposphere and assessed the January and February 2020 figures.

According to Urrutia, it has been seen that among those who died in March of that year, 83% were exposed to higher figures of the pollutant and mortality declined according to lower exposure.

The bottom line is that in two NO2 hot zones in northern Italy and Madrid, chronic exposure to this pollutant may have contributed to mortality from the new virus.

However, the pneumologist has highlighted that more variables are missing from these researches, for example population density.

Pollution and mortality

This idea is supported by another research, Exposures to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States, conducted in 3,000 US counties.

The hypothesis has been raised here that if long-term exposure to PM2.5 (suspended particles of less than 2.5 microns) affects the respiratory and cardiovascular system, it can also exacerbate the severity of the coronavirus and increase the risk of death in patients with COVID 19.

Its authors have focused on PM 2.5 polluting particulate matter and people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and cerebrovascular ailments.

The data have concluded that an increase of just one picogram per cubic meter of PM2.5 is associated with an increase of up to 15% mortality.

Although for Urrutia most of these works must be taken with "due prudence", since more studies are needed and in the longer term, this does not mean that it must be thought that air quality "should be taken into account as prevention of epidemics".

Pollution and noise

For the physicist Julio Díaz Jiménez, senior scientist at the National School of Health at the Carlos III Institute of Health, there is one issue that is very clear:

Air pollution is behind multiple diseases and what they are doing is aggravating a number of underlying pathologies that can serve as a "culture broth" so that COVID can worsen ailments such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

There is, in his view, a direct relationship, and pollution not only makes people more vulnerable to ailments but aggravates the effect of viral infection of this coronavirus.

And when it comes to pollution, he has advocated in the aforementioned SEPAR seminar, it is necessary to include noise pollution of road traffic in cities.

A noise that also aggravates numerous pathologies and "is behind the exacerbation of diseases such as Parkinson's disease and is already related to depression and anxiety".

In his view, there should be no further respinning of the issue because there is research showing a direct link between the number of cars in cities, "and the number of hospital admissions from respiratory or cardiovascular causes."

In relation to the latter pathologies, and also coinciding with World Environment Day, the Spanish Heart Foundation has defended the reduction of air pollution as a measure to prevent heart attacks.

Pollution and heart attacks

In a press release, the FEC states that certain pollutants, in particular PM2.5 particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, generated in part by vehicle combustion, are recognized triggers for acute myocardial infarction

It notes that during the alarm state there has been a 40% decrease in the treatment of heart attack in Spain and more and more experts are aiming at reducing pollution levels as one of the key, but not the only, factors of this decline.

Many publications have been concluding for years that a decrease in levels of certain pollutants would reduce the number of myocardial infarctions by up to 5 percent.

Scientific evidence has clearly described the harmful effects of air pollution at the cardiovascular level:

It promotes inflammation, oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction and produces a prothromotic and vasoconstrictor effect.

Among the measures advocated by the FEC are the optimal design of bike lanes; the promotion of electric, hybrid vehicles, as well as public transport (trains, buses, metro)

They also advocate for policy actions that reduce emissions of fuel and other toxic gases and new legislation for the construction of sustainable housing and office buildings.