Smog over Las Vegas

Air pollution linked to a higher risk of dying from Covid-19 in the US

By Adam Vaughan

Hazy smog over Las Vegas, Nevada

Trekandshoot / Alamy

Living in any part of the United States with dirty air is associated with a significantly higher risk of dying from Covid-19, increasing the prospect of air pollution data to predict which areas are most in need of treatment for people with the disease .

As long-term exposure to air pollution weakens the lungs and Covid-19 attacks them, researchers around the world have been trying to find out if poor air quality makes the disease more severe. Associations have been made, but many studies fail to consider other possible reasons for the associations, such as: B. the population density.

Francesca Dominici of Harvard University and her colleagues have now found that every additional microgram of tiny particles – PM2.5 – per cubic meter of air increases the Covid-19 death rate by 11 percent over the long term. The relationship between Covid-19 and air pollution roughly corresponds to the relationship between illness and smoking.


“This is the first study to provide consistent evidence that you live in a country [US] In a district with a higher particulate matter content, the risk of covid mortality increases, ”says Dominici. Her team examined the death dates for Covid-19 through June 18 for 3,089 US states and modeled the PM2.5 values ​​for the years 2000 through 2016 down to the county level.

Importantly, the association between air pollution and higher death rates was clear even after adjusting the results for 20 other possible explanations, including smoking, wealth, age, and race. However, Dominici says a major limitation of the analysis is that the data on deaths, pollution, and other possible causes are at the area level rather than the person level, which affects its accuracy. Still, this is the best way to measure links until the individual-level data that is being collected is available to researchers in about a year.

While there is no way to undo the damage long-term air pollution is causing, Dominici says it’s “a ton” to find the link to the deaths from Covid-19. For example, areas that have suffered from dirty air could be prioritized for more hospital beds or PPE. And since covid-19 is likely to be with us for years, efforts to make the air cleaner now could help people cope with the disease in the future.

Jonathan Grigg of Queen Mary University in London, who was not involved in the study, says this is good research and is in line with other evidence as it emerges. “It is quite possible that there will be relatively small changes [in pollution exposure] will be associated with an increased risk [in covid-19 mortality rates]. That is plausible, ”he says.

Mark Miller of the British Heart Foundation and the University of Edinburgh, UK, who was also not involved in the research, says we now need to better understand the biology underlying the relationship between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates. “Could these results simply be because both air pollution and Covid-19 affect the same vulnerable groups – the elderly and those with respiratory or cardiovascular disease – or is there something more going on?”

Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abd4049

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