Long-term air pollution linked to greater risk of COVID-19 hospitalization 

Sept. 8, 2021

A new report, led by School of Public Health's Environmental Research Group at Imperial College London, found a link between air pollution and more severe cases of COVID-19, according to a news release from the university.

The comprehensive review of a small number of good-quality studies, carried out with the University of Cambridge MRC Toxicology Unit, found that long-term exposure to air pollution before the pandemic increased the risk of hospitalization in people already infected with COVID-19. This may be due to the already well-established link between air pollution and lung and heart disease, which are known to make people more vulnerable to adverse outcomes from COVID-19. Inconsistent results were found for studies of long-term exposure to air pollution and the number of COVID-19 cases.

This review shows that there is some increasing evidence of links between exposure to air pollution and susceptibility to hospital admissions from COVID-19 and, while this study highlights that more research is needed in this area, it is already clear that tackling air pollution is important in reducing the vulnerability of the population to COVID-19, and other infections like it.

Historically, air pollution has been most associated with “non-communicable” diseases that can't be directly transmitted between people. For example, there is extensive and growing evidence on the impact of air pollution on heart and lung diseases. Until now, the role air pollution plays in infectious respiratory diseases has been overlooked and underestimated in the UK. The report contains a review of studies of air pollution and lower respiratory infections since 2011. Several studies found a link. although the studies were spread across different age groups and disease definitions. This provides some plausibility for a link between air pollution and COVID-19 infection.

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