Air pollution and covid: there is a link

New research seems to confirm the existence of a link between (poor) air quality and the risk of getting sick from covid. According to a study conducted on a sample of young adults by scientists from the Karolinska Institutet (Sweden), residents in areas with a high concentration of fine dust and soot are more likely to have a positive swab in their hands than those who live in less polluted areas. .

Exposure to traffic-generated pollutants typical of large cities – such as those looming over the Po Valley, the first epicenter of covid in Europe – is therefore associated with a greater risk of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, even if the study it simply detects an association and does not give information on possible causes.

Previous. Several studies have already reported a relationship between air pollution and the distribution of major covid outbreaks, and it is known that living under particularly polluted skies contributes to a greater incidence of cases of influenza and SARS (another relative coronavirus “than that of the covid). On the one hand, those who breathe air dense with particulate matter are more susceptible to respiratory infections, on the other hand, some past research has shown that viruses spread also thanks to the polluting particles suspended in the air we inhale.

Air quality. In the study published on JAMA Network Open, the Swedish team identified 425 covid-positive people with the diagnosis confirmed by a PCR swab between May 2020 and the end of March 2021. The average age of the participants, 54% women, was 26 years old. Knowing the address of these patients, asymptomatic or with mild symptoms, the scientists estimated the diurnal concentrations in their areas of residence of various air pollutants: PM10 and PM2.5 (fine and ultrafine dust, capable of penetrating in the upper respiratory tract and blood circulation), as well as soot and nitrogen oxides.

Increased risk. Scientists were interested in the association between the likelihood of infection and exposure to these pollutants before the swab, on the day of the swab, and after the infection resolved. And indeed a link has emerged: there is a relationship between the risk of contracting covid and exposure to fine and ultra-fine dust two days before a positive test, and exposure to soot one day before. On the other hand, there is no apparent link with nitrogen oxides.

Between the less polluted areas and those with the highest concentrations of polluting particulate matter there is a 7% risk difference of getting sick with covid: it might seem little, but given that almost everyone on Earth breathes poor quality air, it makes a huge difference in terms of public health. The relationship does not seem to be changed by other factors that also affect the risk of contracting covid in a severe form – such as gender, smoking, being overweight or suffering from asthma.

The possible causes. As explained in a previous article by the journalist from Focus Margherita Fronte, at the origin of the connection there could be several factors: breathing polluted air predisposes to respiratory diseases that could make you more susceptible to covid; moreover, smog appears to hinder the activity of immune system cells that keep respiratory pathogens at bay.

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