Even Short Exposure To Air Pollution Increases Risk Of Covid Infection, Study Suggests

Topline

Exposure to air pollution might increase the likelihood of contracting Covid-19, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open on Wednesday, adding to a growing body of research demonstrating the role air quality plays in the pandemic and the broader health costs of pollution.

Key Facts

Exposure to some traffic-related air pollutants was associated with a greater likelihood of testing positive for Covid-19 in young adults, according to a Swedish study of 425 people who tested positive on a PCR test between May 2020 through March 2021.

The study estimated exposure to four pollutants—nitrogen oxides, black carbon and particulate matter with a diameter less than 10 micrometers (PM10) and 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5)—based on participants’ home addresses, drawing from a cohort of more than 4,000 people born in Stockholm between 1994 and 1996 who have been monitored over time.

Exposure to PM10 and PM2.5 in the two days leading up to taking a test was linked with an increased risk of testing positive, the researchers found.

There was also an elevated risk for those exposed to black carbon the day before testing but no link between exposure to nitrogen oxides and the risk of Covid infection.

The association was not linked to other factors like gender, smoking, being overweight or asthma, the researchers said, suggesting a “general association” of air pollution exposure to coronavirus infection.

Crucial Quote

Erik Melén, professor of pediatrics at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and one of the study’s authors, said the modest-sounding increase in risk might not sound much but it can be of “great significance to public health… given that everyone is more or less exposed to air pollutants.”

What We Don’t Know

Whether something else can explain the relationship between air pollution and Covid-19. It’s possible the results could have been affected by subjects’ willingness to take a PCR test and the fact that many studied were asymptomatic or had only mild symptoms, the researchers said. The study’s design can also not rule out the possibility that other factors, such as spending more time outdoors or in traffic, influenced the results.

Key Background

Air pollution is a known risk factor for some of the world’s leading causes of illness and death, including heart disease, stroke, cancer and mental illness. The World Health Organization estimates it is responsible for some 7 million deaths every year and reduces the quality of life for millions more, a health burden the agency says is on par with other threats like tobacco smoking and an unhealthy diet. Pollution has long been recognized as a possible contributor to respiratory infections like influenza and long-term exposure has been linked to an elevated risk of Covid-19, though this study is the first to demonstrate the risk of even short exposures.

Further Reading

Air Pollution Linked To Millions Of Premature Births In 2019, Study Finds (Forbes)

What We Know About Covid, the Flu and the Air We Breathe (NYT)

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Reference-www.forbes.com

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