Long-term exposure to polluted air is linked to an increased risk of dying due to COVID-19. The study estimated that 15% of deaths in the world related to COVID-19 are linked to long-term air pollution. In East Asia it was 27%, in Europe it was 19% and in North America, it was 17%. This may not imply a direct cause-effect relationship between COVID-19 mortality and air pollution but refers to aggravating of co-morbidities due to pollution leading to fatal outcomes. The researchers used epidemiological data and combined it with the satellite data showing global exposure to particulate matter.
Air pollution contributed around 17% of deaths in India, 27% in China, 15% in Italy, 14% in the UK, and just 1% in New Zealand. When polluted air is inhaled, the particulate matter (PM 2.5) migrates from the lungs to the blood and vessels leading to inflammation and severe oxidative stress. This leads to damage to the endothelium of the arteries causing narrowing and stiffening. The particulate matter also seems to increase the ACE-2 activity, which in turn increases the uptake of the virus by the lungs. COVID-19 also affects the lungs causing a severe inflammatory response and hence can aggravate the existing conditions. Pollution also increases the vulnerability to COVID-19.
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