High air pollution carries COVID-19 in the air

August 19, 2020
Pollution

PEOPLE who live in areas with bad air pollution are more likely to catch Covid-19, according to a new study.

International researchers led by Taipei Medical University in Taiwan have claimed pollution plays a direct role in the spread of the disease because particles can carry the virus in the air.

They said viruses may be absorbed by Particulate Matter (PM) – those produced mostly by car fumes and construction work - and then travel or linger in the air for hours or even days before being inhaled by someone.

This would suggest the coronavirus is airborne, meaning people can inhale it from tiny particles in the air.

It wouldn't be the first time a virus has latched on to toxic air as a means of surviving - bird flu and seasonal influenza have both been discovered in PM.  

Air pollution affects all regions of the world, but more so in low-income cities, 97 per cent of which do not meet air quality guidelines set out by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Even in high-income countries, 49 per cent are breaching pollution limits.

PM is in the air pollution emitted from vehicles, factories, construction sites, tilled fields, unpaved roads, and burning of fossil fuels.

It's been shown in years of scientific research to damage airways, leading to breathing difficulties and the development of asthma in children who are genetically at risk.

Lead researcher Nguyen Thanh Tung of Taipei Medical University and colleagues explained that the PM may make the lungs more susceptible to the coronavirus by increasing the expression of ACE-2 receptors that coat cells.

ACE-2 receptors are used as a portal for SARS-CoV-2 to enter cells. That is, a person who inhales polluted air may have more entry points for the coronavirus.

Previous studies also showed that PM may make the cells in the lungs more susceptible to the coronavirus, increasing the risk of someone becoming badly affected.

Though health officials have said the coronavirus is spread mainly from large respiratory droplets expelled from coughing or sneezing, however, emerging evidence showed airborne transmission also plays a role.

Viruses may be absorbed by PM and remain airborne for hours or days.

Scientists said the tiny particles can then be inhaled deep into the lungs where the virus begins replicating.

They added that PM may provide “a good platform to shade and carry the SARS-CoV-2” and be a direct transmission model in a highly polluted area.

There are some studies which support this theory to some extent including a highly polluted Bergamo in Italy where genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 was detectable in 19 of 34 PM samples.

However, it is not very clear yet that if someone has more ACE-2 expression, they are at higher risk of catching Covid-19.

Previous studies have showed that ACE-2 is preventative of severe lung damage.  (ScienceDaily)