By Mahima Devkota, Kathmandu, Jan. 22: Exposure to air pollution for a long time not only causes chronic respiratory diseases but also makes people more susceptible to COVID-19 infection.
Both the experts in the field and researchers conducted on the issue recently have pointed out that the longer you are exposed to air pollution the more chances you have to get infected with the SARS-CoV-2.
As per the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) of England, researchers found that long-term exposure to the air measuring more than PM2.5 could increase the risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 by up to 7 percent.
A study report of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health points out that breathing in more polluted air over many years may itself worsen the effects of COVID-19.
In addition, a report published in Science Advances publication of November 4, 2020, showed an association between air pollution over many years with an 11% increase in mortality from COVID-19 infection for every 1 microgram/cubic meter increase in air pollution.
Dr. Rabindra Pandey, the public health expert, said, “Poor quality of air that we are breathing in goes directly to the lungs. Through our lungs, it will cause major damage, increasing the risk of chronic respiratory diseases such as lung cancer, obstructive chronic pulmonary diseases, asthma, pneumonia and others.”
Pointing out that there is the prevalence of unhealthy air quality with PM 2.5 in major cities of the country and that Nepalis have been exposed to prolonged bad air quality, Dr. Pandey added that this exacerbates pre-conditions and in the case of COVID-19 patients, it has been observed that those who will be more at severe risk of developing COVID-19 infection are those with preconditions.
This, in turn, will make patients, the population, more vulnerable to the disease, plus to the severity of developing a more serious illness which obstructs the recovery process and increases chances of contraction and reoccurrence of COVID-19 infection as well, he added.
Dr. Pandey said, “Pollution attacks the lungs causing cough, cold, and infection. Similarly, the SARS-CoV-2 also attacks lungs causing dry cough, infection and difficulty in breathing.”
If both COVID-19 infection and the pollution occurs concurrently then it makes even more difficult for the lungs to supply oxygen in the body which leads to casualties and delay in recoveries from COVID-19, said Dr. Pandey.
Dr. Richa Nepal, Internal Medicine at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, said that air pollution exposure can dysregulate human response and make people susceptible to infections. In response to exposure to air pollution, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 will increase, which is a receptor for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
Pointing out the hazardous Air Quality Index of the country, Dr. Nepal said that air pollution can facilitate SARS-CoV-2 spread by increasing the transmission, and potentially, SARS-CoV-2 can survive longer when attached to air pollutants.
Indu Bikram Joshi, deputy director-general of the Department of Environment, said, “Fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 ) particles is an air pollutant that directly affects the lungs which then brings respiratory infection, which will directly or indirectly serve as an agent for getting COVID-19 infection.”
He added that those who are having a weak immune system and have prior lung conditions will, unfortunately, have to bear the consequence if found careless about the matter.