High Levels of Airborne Pollen Increases COVID-19 Infection Rates

A large-scale study conducted by an international team headed by researchers at the Technical University of Munich and the Helmholtz Zentrum München has concluded that when airborne pollen levels are higher, increased SARS-CoV-2 infection rates can be observed. For the study, the researchers collected data on airborne pollen concentrations, weather conditions, and SARS-CoV-2 infections- taking into consideration the variation of infection rates from one day to another and the total number of positive tests. In their calculations, the team also included data on population density and the effects of lockdown measures.

The 154 researchers analyzed pollen data from 130 stations in 31 countries on five continents. The team showed that airborne pollen can account for, on average, 44 percent of the variation in infection rates, with humidity and air temperature also playing a role in some cases. During intervals without lockdown regulations, infection rates were on average 4 percent higher with every increase of 100 grains of airborne pollen per cubic meter.

High pollen concentrations lead to a weaker immune response in airways to viruses that can cause coughs and colds. If airborne pollen concentrations are high, and pollen grains are inhaled with the virus particles, fewer antiviral interferons are generated. The beneficial inflammatory response itself is also affected. Therefore, on days with a high concentration of pollen, it can lead to an increase in the number of respiratory illnesses. This also holds for Covid-19. Whether individuals are allergic to the different pollen types is irrelevant. The researchers suggested particle filtering masks might protect from airborne pollen. 

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Ref Link: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2019034118

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