15% of global COVID-19 deaths could be due to it
Is the chance of death from COVID-19 higher if you breathe polluted air over the long term? Such a relationship is obvious, but cannot be measured directly. Now it has been published in the scientific journal on October 27, 2020 Cardiovascular Exam (“Regional and global contributions of air pollution to the risk of death from COVID-19 ″) published study, the share of COVID-19 deaths attributable to particulate matter pollution was first determined on a country-specific basis. The study authors estimate that about 15% of global deaths from COVID-19 could be due to long-term exposure to air pollution.
According to the authors (from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (MPIC) in Mainz, the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, the London Center for Climate Change and Planetary Health, the Berlin Charité and the Mainz University Medical Center), the share is COVID that is caused by air pollution -19 deaths in Europe at 19%, in North America at 17% and in East Asia at 27%. The figures are based on estimates of the proportion of COVID-19 deaths that could have been avoided if the population had been exposed to less air pollution from the use of fossil fuels and other anthropogenic sources.
Andrea Pozzer of the MPIC emphasizes that the attributable share does not show a direct relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, but rather an indirect effect, which is why he and his colleagues also give relative figures: “ Our estimates show the importance of air pollution co-morbidity, that is, health factors that aggravate each other to cause fatal health consequences of the virus infection, ”adds the atmospheric researcher and lead author of the study.
The estimates of COVID-19 deaths from air pollution paint a very different picture for individual countries: the share is relatively high in the Czech Republic at 29%, in China at 27% and in Germany at 26%. For example, the share is lower in Italy (15%) or Brazil (12%). Figures for Israel (6%), Australia (3%) and New Zealand (1%) are in single digits. In their publication, the researchers also provide the statistical confidence intervals for their calculations, which are around 5 to 33% worldwide.
Pozzer, who also conducts research at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, assesses the data as follows: “While our results are uncertain, the contribution of air pollution to COVID-19 mortality is clear. However, actual mortality is influenced by many factors, such as the country’s health system. “
Jos Lelieveld, director of the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry and professor at the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia, Cyprus, comments on the figures: “As the number of deaths from COVID-19 is constantly increasing, it is not possible to determine the final number of deaths per Indicate the country that can be attributed to air pollution. For example, in the UK, about 44,000 people died from COVID-19 between the start of the pandemic and mid-June. We estimate that the proportion of air pollution was 14%, which corresponds to almost 6,000 deaths. In the US, 220,000 COVID deaths, accounting for 18%, resulted in nearly 40,000 deaths attributable to air pollution. “
“When people breathe in polluted air, the very small, harmful fine dust particles migrate from the lungs to the blood and blood vessels,” explains Prof. Thomas Münzel of the University Hospital Mainz, explaining the effects of air pollution on our bodies. “There, they cause inflammation and strong oxidative stress, which disrupts the balance between free radicals and the oxidants that normally repair cell damage,” said the director of the Mainz University Medical Center’s Center for Cardiology and co-author of the study. This, in turn, damages the innermost layer of the arteries, the endothelium, and leads to narrowing and stiffening of the arteries. The coronavirus also enters the body through the lungs and causes similar damage to the blood vessels. It is therefore also seen as an endothelial disease.
“When prolonged exposure to air pollution and infection with the COVID-19 virus come together, the negative health effects add up, especially with regard to the heart and blood vessels. This, in turn, leads to greater sensitivity and lower resistance to COVID-19. If you already have heart disease, air pollution and coronavirus infections cause problems that can lead to heart attacks, heart failure and strokes, ”said Münzel.
“Particulate matter appears to increase the activity of the ACE-2 receptor on cell surfaces. This receptor is known to be involved in the way COVID-19 infects cells. So we have a “double hit”: air pollution damages the lungs and increases ACE-2 activity, which in turn leads to increased uptake of the virus by the lungs, “adds Prof. Münzel.
For their analysis, the researchers used the results of an American epidemiological study, which estimated an association between COVID-19 mortality and exposure to particulate matter of the magnitude PM2.5. This is the name given to particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller. This correlation, in turn, was compared with Chinese studies analyzing particulate matter pollution and the consequences of the SARS-CoV-1 epidemic in 2003 and confirmed that in areas with moderate air pollution, the risk of dying from the disease compared to areas with relatively clean air, more than 80% was higher, while the risk was twice as high in highly polluted regions. The scientists conclude that an association between COVID-19 deaths and long-term exposure to PM2.5 is highly likely. The scientists determined the regional share of attributable COVID-19 deaths using global particulate matter distribution data obtained from satellite data, ground-based air pollution networks and numerical models.
Because the results are based on epidemiological data from the third week of June 2020, the scientists are planning a final review of the full data after the COVID-19 pandemic resolves.
A clear plea for politicians: “No vaccine against poor air quality and climate change”
In their publication, the authors make a clear case for politicians: “Our results suggest that reducing air pollution can bring significant benefits, even at relatively low PM2.5 levels. The environmental aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic shown here is that we must increasingly strive for effective measures to reduce anthropogenic emissions that cause both air pollution and climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic will end with population vaccination or herd immunity due to widespread infection of the population. However, there is no vaccine against poor air quality and climate change. The way is to reduce emissions. The transition to a green economy with clean, renewable energy sources will benefit the environment as well as promote public health – locally by improving air quality and globally by mitigating climate change. “