Research increasingly shows just how much more infectious and dangerous coronaviruses are to those impacted by air pollution.
This type of research goes back many years.
In 2003, scientists found that people exposed to high air pollution levels were twice as likely to die from SARS, which is 80% similar to the COVID-19 coronavirus, as those with less exposure. People in polluted areas had an 8.9% mortality rate versus 4.08% for those living in less polluted areas.
The mortality rate of people infected with the SARS coronavirus living in heavily polluted areas was 8.9%, while those infected living in less polluted areas only faced a mortality rate of 4.08%.
COVID-19 and air pollution
Researchers have since dug deeper into why air pollution may increase the risk of death from COVID-19 and other coronavirus infections. A groundbreaking 2020 study looked at three cell receptors in the lungs that the virus uses as entryways into your lungs: the enzyme ACE2 and the proteins DC-SIGN and L-SIGN.
These receptors keep your basic bodily functions working normally by turning amino acids and sugars into fuel for important processes: ACE2 helps regulate blood pressure, while DC-SIGN and L-SIGN support immune system responses to disease.
Looking at how the lungs of smokers responded to COVID-19 infections, researchers found that ACE2 receptors in smokers’ lungs were more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections than non-smokers.
ACE2 receptors in smokers’ lungs were more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections than non-smokers.
Scientists have also discovered that lung damage in smokers is very similar to lung damage in people who have been exposed to air pollution for long periods of time.
A 2019 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that regular exposure to pollutants like ozone was like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day in terms of how ozone damages the lungs.
Even areas with relatively low levels of long-term air pollution can be susceptible to higher risks of severe or deadly COVID-19 symptoms from poor air quality.
A team of researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health wanted to find out just how deep the relationship between air pollution and the coronavirus goes.4
So they looked at COVID-19 deaths and average PM2.5 pollution in over 3,000 U.S. counties that represented 98% of the U.S. population, finding that every increase of 1 microgram per cubic meter (𝜇g/m3) of PM2.5 increased the risk of severe or deadly COVID-19 symptoms by 8%.