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Conservation Research Institute


Higher air pollution could be linked to increased coronavirus deaths, according to a new Cambridge Study

Article by Harry Gold

Though most people with COVID-19 only develop a mild illness, some patients go on to develop severe respiratory conditions, and scientists are trying to work out why some sufferers are more at risk of a serious response than others.

According to research conducted by the Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit at Cambridge University, air pollution could affect the severity of the disease.
The study compared regional information on COVID-19 cases against three major levels of air pollutants. The research used data from seven regions in England and air pollution data from more than 120 sites.
Levels of pollutants, most of which come from traffic fumes, were found to be the highest in the North West, the Midlands, and London. Death associated with coronavirus followed the same trend, suggesting the higher the pollution levels, the higher the number of fatalities.
But other experts warned that the results did not show a causal link between poor air quality and worse COVID-19, adding disease transmission and death would be expected to be higher in highly-populated areas such as London, which also have higher air pollution.
Previous studies have pointed to a higher risk for older people or those with underlying health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer.
Long-term exposure to air pollutants from car exhaust fumes or burning fossil fuels can put people at risk of these health conditions, and can also increase the risk of infection by viruses that affect people's airways.
Marco Travaglio, a PhD student at the MRC Toxicology Unit, said: "Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England.
"London, the Midlands and the North West show the largest concentration of these air pollutants, with southern regions displaying the lowest levels in the country, and the number of COVID-19 deaths follows a similar trend."
The researchers say that their findings, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, only show a correlation between dirty air and more severe COVID-19 disease.
Further research is needed to confirm that air pollution makes COVID-19 worse, and research from northern Italy and the United States have come to similar conclusions.