Researchers have found a probable correlation between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in two of the worst affected regions in northern Italy that also happen to be the most polluted in Europe. "We provide evidence that people living in an area with high levels of pollutants are more prone to develop chronic respiratory conditions and suitable to any infective agent," wrote the scientists in their paper published in ScienceDirect.
"Moreover, prolonged exposure to air pollution leads to a chronic inflammatory stimulus, even in young and healthy subjects. We conclude that the high level of pollution in Northern Italy should be considered an additional co-factor of the high level of lethality recorded in that area."
The scientists found that the mortality rate is 12% in the northern part of Italy and approximately 4.5% in the rest of the country. "In particular, since the virus began to spread in Italy, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna recorded a substantial high level of lethality if compared with other countries but also than other Italian regions," wrote the study's authors.
Chronic respiratory conditions
The authors further reported that the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute had used data from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA’s Aura satellite to reveal that Northern Italy is one of Europe’s most polluted areas. This is because of its climatic and geographic conditions, which result in the stagnation of pollutants.
Pollution, argued the researchers, impairs the cilia, the first line of defense of upper airways. Ergo, living in polluted areas makes people more prone to develop chronic respiratory conditions.
"This, in our opinion, may partly explain a higher prevalence and lethality of a novel, very contagious, viral agent such as SARS-CoV-2, among a population living in areas with a higher level of air pollution, particularly if we consider the relatively high average age of this population," concluded the authors.