Biodiversity Nepal
For the Future Generation

Is Air Pollution Increasing the COVID-19 Death Rate?

Without COVID-19, air pollution takes lives; with COVID-19, it takes more.

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The individual impact and death rate of COVID-19 is associated with a myriad of factors such as age, physiological condition, economic status, and availability of health care. By Thursday, at least 1.5 million people have reportedly lost their lives due to COVID-19. Now, recent studies suggest that air pollution might be another triggering factor of COVID death.

The aftermath of coronavirus is associated with respiratory and cardiovascular problems, similar to the effects of air pollution. The death rates of 2002-2004 SARS outbreak (which is also caused by a similar virus under the Coronavirus family) showed a positive association with air pollution. So, there is no doubt that the fact holds true for the novel coronavirus as well. 

The fatal combination of air pollution and COVID-19

According to a recent Harvard study, the relationship between long-term PM2.5 exposure and the COVID-19 mortality rate is significant. The researchers collected data from all over the USA and concluded that even a small increase in PM2.5 can result in a large spike of COVID-19 deaths. 

PM2.5, also known as Particulate Matter, are tiny particles suspended in the air with diameters less than 2.5 micrometres. These particles are so small that they can easily get inhaled into the deep components of lungs causing serious health issues. 

A man walks through dusty road in Kathmandu, Nepal (Source: Nepal Buzz)

In spite of their minute size, PM2.5 comes in varied shape with hundreds of chemicals attached to them. Studies conclude that long-term exposure can cause lung inflammation and changes in lung functions. This can lead to a serious progression of COVID-19 as inflammation promotes the better attachment of the virus to cells.

Breathing polluted air also weakens the immune system. This induces susceptibility to respiratory infections and other health problems such as diabetes, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart diseases, cancer and many more. These underlying illnesses further worsen the vulnerability and risk associated with COVID-19.

Research published by Cardiovascular Research suggests that 15% of all Covid-19 deaths around the world may be attributable to dirty air. In fact, the areas with higher air pollution are facing more severe cases of COVID-19 patients.

Decreasing Temperature, Increasing Cases

In 2020, State of Global Air ranked Nepal as one of the countries with the poorest air quality. The outdoor PM2.5 level was way above the WHO guidelines.

With the arrival of winter, air quality is set to deteriorate in the country. The cold air settles on the ground holding more particles in the atmosphere. In addition, the lack of rainfall keeps the pollutant floating in the atmosphere decreasing any likelihood of pollutants being washed away. 

Winter also becomes a brewing ground for COVID-19. Studies suggest that coronavirus survives better in cold conditions and dry environments. 

Furthermore, the temperature drop is also more likely to increase the cases of other seasonal flu. There are also maximum chances that people might mistake those infections as coronavirus. This increases the number of people hoarding into hospital for PCR test, even though they might not have COVID-19 in the first place.

Army personnel helping in COVID-19 (Source: Indian News Express)

With no contact tracing, worryingly low test, loose lockdown and social distancing rules, reopening of schools, Nepal might be the next hub for COVID-19.

Hope..? 

The recent progress in COVID-19 vaccine has created a beacon of hope among people with an assurance of normal life. However, the arrival of the vaccine, mass vaccination and its effectiveness still remains a time-consuming process. 

On the other hand, air pollution will still remain an unsolved problem. With or without COVID-19 case, air pollution will take lives. 

We may hopefully vaccinate ourselves from the virus, but our lives will still be on the edge without the vaccination from air pollution.

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