Air pollution contributes to a “significant fraction” of coronavirus-related deaths


Motorcycles are a popular form of transport in many cities in Southeast Asia, such in Ho Chi Minh City (pictured here in early 2016) but the heavy traffic contributes to air pollution (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Fifteen per cent of all novel coroavirus-related deaths worldwide “could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution,” according to a German-led team of researchers.

Published in the journal Cardiovascular Research, the estimate is based on analysis of pollution and pandemic data by organisations including the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Harvard University’s public health school and The Cyprus Institute’s Climate and Atmosphere Research Center.

Exposure to air pollution likely aggravates “co-morbidities that could lead to fatal health outcomes of the [novel coronavirus] infection,” the research team said.

Deaths linked to a combination of air pollution and Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, represent “potentially avoidable, excess mortality,” they added.

“If you already have heart disease, then air pollution and coronavirus infection will cause trouble that can lead to heart attacks, heart failure and stroke,” said co-author Thomas Muenzel of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.

More than a quarter of coronavirus-related deaths in Asia could be linked to to air pollution, the researchers estimate, compared to Europe’s 19 per cent and North America’s 17 per cent.

Over 1.1 million people worldwide have died after being infected with the coronavirus, according to official data tallied by Johns Hopkins University. Most of the reported deaths have been among elderly people suffering with pre-existing conditions

A second wave of infections is sweeping Europe, with some countries seeing record new daily case numbers – though hospitalizations and deaths in most countries have so far not reached levels seen during the pandemic’s first March to May onslaught.

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