Prolonged Exposure To Air Pollution May Be Behind 17% Of India's COVID Deaths

The report is based on study of air quality data, distribution of global fatalities (File)

New Delhi:

Seventeen per cent of India’s COVID deaths can be linked to long-term exposure to air pollution, higher than the global average of 15 per cent, a study conducted by six researchers from different European institutes has found.

The findings of the study called “Regional and global contributions of air pollution to risk of death from COVID-19” has been published in the European Society of Cardiology’s journal – “Cardiology Research”.

“We used epidemiological studies in the US and in China that have shown that there is a relationship between air pollution and the death rate among COVID patients. We used this to derive a direct relationship to see how many people would actually die from COVID that you could attribute to illness that was caused by air pollution and we applied that worldwide,” Jos Lelieveld, one of the authors of the study responsible for the modelling part of it, told NDTV.

Mr Lelieveld is also associated with the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia, Cyprus.

“In India, the numbers are a little bit higher because the pollution levels are higher, especially in north India and the Indo-Gangetic plains where many people live. There is a high level of air pollution which causes pre-conditions that lead people to be more sensitive to have a severe development of COVID and die from it. So that tells us that we need to do more about air pollution,” he said.

The report is based on the study of air quality data and distribution of fatalities across the world till the third week of June. The highest proportion of deaths was recorded in Czech Republic (29%), followed by Poland (28%) and China (27%).

The study says that these are the proportions of deaths that could have been avoided if long term exposure to air pollution was lower.

Another co-author Professor Thomas Munzel, from the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University and the German Center for Cardiovascular Research, describes air pollutution and COVID as a “double hit”.

According to him, “Air pollution damages the lungs. It increases the activity of cell receptors which in turn leads to enhanced uptake of the virus by the lungs and probably by the blood vessels and the heart.”

Dr Vivek Nangia, Principal Director and Head of Pulmonology at Max Healthcare said, “PM 2.5 particle is the particle which remains suspended in the air for a very long time. If there’s a COVID-19 patient,  who is coughing, sneezing, talking loudly or laughing, he would actually be emitting all those droplets into the air which then get attached to this PM 2.5 particle and remain suspended for extended periods. This can result in an increase in the number of cases. The number of cases increase whenever the air pollution levels rise and it’s mainly because air pollution results in a diminished immunity in human beings. The respiratory tract immunity goes down significantly.”

The head of India’s top medical body, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Dr Balram Bhargava said Tuesday studies have proven that long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to an increased risk of deaths due to the coronavirus infection.

The Union Health Ministry has repeatedly issued appeals asking people to be more cautious against the deadly virus as COVID cases are expected to rise with the winter months approaching and pollution levels going up.


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