Covid: BMJ warns of new risk factor – you’ll encounter it daily
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Researchers from Italy have identified a new comorbidity for COVID-19 and have called on governments to act in reducing it.
Air pollution, even at low levels, increases the risk of contracting Covid among people exposed to it regularly.
The strongest association was found for particulates, solid pollutants such as soot, dirt and dust.
The researchers explain that previous research has also identified pollution as a risk factor, but had been limited by design flaws and lack of data.
The researchers writing in the BMJ examined 81,543 residents of the city of Varese, Lombardy.
Only 3.5 percent of the regional population were fully vaccinated by the end of March 2021, according to official statistics.
Approximately 97 percent could be linked to the average pollution levels of where they lived since 2018 by using their home addresses.
This was divided into five different types of pollution for which data was available.
Two of them, PM10 and PM2.5 were forms of solid particulate matter.
The research conducted was observational and cannot identify a causal relationship.
The researchers do have theories as to why air pollution is linked to higher risk.
They suggest that air pollution causes persistent inflammation and impairs the immune system from functioning.
This makes people more susceptible to infection with Covid.
The researchers said: “Our findings provide the first solid empirical evidence for the hypothesised pathway linking long-term exposure to air pollution with the incidence of COVID-19, and deserve future generalisation in different contexts.
“Meanwhile, government efforts to further reduce air pollution levels can help to mitigate the public health burden of COVID-19.”
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The study identified a variety of other risk factors that had already been noticed in previous studies.
This included advanced age, living in a care home, history of stroke, diabetes, hypertension and obstructive airway diseases.
People living in care homes saw a 10-fold increase in their risk of infection.
An annual change in particulate matter of roughly one microgram per metre cubed saw a five percent change in infection rates.
This totalled to an extra 294 cases per 100,000 people in the city.
The correlation the researchers found remained after removing other potential causes and accounting for seasonal changes.
The researchers note, however, that there were various potential factors they could not account for, such as humidity, temperature and underlying medical conditions outside the ones they looked for such as diabetes.
Previous research has tied air pollution to worse health outcomes.
Asthma and other breathing conditions can be aggravated by pollution.
A 2020 review noted that while the primary complication from air pollution is an increased risk of respiratory diseases, other areas of health are also impacted.
Pulmonary disease and gastrointestinal health were also noted as being impacted by air pollution directly or by the weakening of the immune system.
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