New studies show that there may be a link between higher amounts of air pollution and a wider rate of spread of the coronavirus.
In a preliminary study, Italian scientists had detected the coronavirus on particles of air pollution which could suggest that the virus could be carried over some distances. However, this study is preliminary and it is still unknown if the coronavirus is able to cause disease through particulate matter.
Particulate matter is tiny particles of pollution that can be very harmful to health with exposure. They are produced in a variety of ways such as car exhausts, smokestacks, or just from burning materials. As particulate matter (PM 2.5) are so small, it can get deep into our lungs which can lead to various respiratory and cardiovascular problems.
The Preliminary Study
Italy is known to have issues with air pollution and air quality, particularly in Northern Italy. In an annual report that showed air pollution figures for 2018, most of the highly affected cities were in Northern Italy.
With this in mind, Italian scientists had collected air samples at two sites in the Bergamo province in Northern Italy, one urban area and one industrial area. The samples tested had found a gene that was specific to the COVID-19 virus and it was detected by blind testing at an independent laboratory.
The research team had made a statistical analysis which suggests that higher amounts of air pollution could be linked with higher rates of coronavirus infections in Northern Italy.
The study was led by Leonardo Setti at the University of Bologna in Italy and although they have made detection, the study has not been peer-reviewed and will need further investigations, but experts agree that this may be plausible.
The question of if air pollution is related to the transmission of the coronavirus also links to the question of how the coronavirus can be transmitted. Coughing and sneezing are the common forms of transmission and whilst the larger fluid droplets might fall off within a metre or two, the smaller particles can travel much further and remain viable in the air for some time. During this time, it could be possible that the virus is carried through air pollution particles or particulate matter which could increase the rate of spread.
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