Air pollution and corona history: a connection?

Air pollution and corona history: a connection?

Heavy air pollution and more severe courses of Covid-19 corona disease may be related. At least that’s what certain researchers say, others are skeptical.

© Photo: Marco Alpozzi / LaPresse via ZUMA Press / dpa
A worker in a protective suit walks across a cemetery in the industrial city of Turin where fresh graves are dug.

As a study by the geoscientist Yaron Ogen from the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) shows, significantly more people died after being infected with the corona virus in regions with a permanently high level of pollutants than in other regions. A study by US researchers at Harvard University also suggests that there is a connection. Pneumologists are more cautious.

In his study, Ogen analyzed satellite data on air pollution on Earth, weather data on air flows and deaths associated with the new lung disease from Italy, France, Spain and Germany. The result: Especially in regions that are particularly heavily contaminated with nitrogen dioxide and where there is little air circulation through the surroundings, people died after an infection with Sars-CoV-2. “When we look at northern Italy, the greater Madrid area or the Wuhan province in China, for example, we see a special feature: they are all surrounded by mountains. This makes it even more likely that the air in these regions will be stable and the pollution level will be higher, »said the researcher.

For Germany, he examined data on air pollution and corona deaths on a country basis. Accordingly, the air is particularly polluted in North Rhine-Westphalia, southern Hesse, Bavaria and on the border between Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. But: “The degree of pollution in Germany is absolutely not comparable to that in northern Italy.” There, the nitrogen dioxide concentration is two to three times higher than the German maximum.

US researchers from Harvard University found in a study that higher levels of particulate matter are related to an increase in the Covid-19 death rate. The researchers compared the air quality to which people in different US counties are exposed and the Covid 19 death rate. As a result, a small increase in air pollution that people are exposed to over the long term leads to an increase in Covid 19 deaths.

Ogen cannot say how much the environmental impact factor has in comparison with other factors such as comorbidities on the course of Covid-19. But that’s exactly what you have to find out, he demands. “To solve the virus problem, the scientists should not only look at previous illnesses and the age of the patients and dead, or whether they smoked. Maybe there is still an important factor with pollution in the environment. »

According to Ogen, especially when young people die, it is necessary to take a look at the surroundings: «Did the 30-year-old live next to an airport or the motorway or was he perhaps a truck driver and thus always exposed to exhaust fumes? That can play a role. »

According to Berthold Jany, former president of the German Society for Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine (DGP), this is not yet certain. Stronger air pollution is not necessarily the reason for more severe disease courses and also not for more frequent infections. According to Jany, air pollution and mortality are undisputed, for example, people who live on busy roads are more likely to die, as the expert said. It is speculative whether this will also lead to a worse course of Covid’s disease.

One reason for this: According to the expert, previously damaged lungs are not the main problem when infected with Sars-CoV-2. A complicated course of Covid-19 disease is determined not only by the condition of the lungs, but above all by the patient’s age and comorbidities. “There is no doubt at all.” According to the expert, patients with a complicated course of the disease often also have cardiovascular diseases or often die from heart failure. Frank Heimann, chairman of the Federal Association of Pneumologists, Sleeping and Respiratory Physicians, has so far not seen a very clear connection between airborne pollutants and death after corona infection. Air pollution can weaken the defense against infections in the long term, he says. But: “Smoking cigarettes is much worse”: Smoking a cigarette immediately weakens the local mucosal defense for hours, he explained. The cilia are paralyzed and can no longer remove an inhaled virus from the airways.

Like Jany, Heimann says that not only people with previously damaged lungs die from a corona infection. “Of course, people with lung diseases are faster than healthy people,” said the expert. But with regard to Covid-19, a good heart, good kidneys and an intact metabolism are also necessary. “Any serious pre-existing condition also puts people at risk,” said Heimann. If a lung victim suffers from Covid-19, the likelihood that they will need ventilation is higher than in people with an intact lung. Ultimately, whether the disease ends in death depends on the sum of the patient’s disease-related restrictions.


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