PM2.5s exacerbate coronavirus outcomes

High concentrations of PM2.5s may amplify the coronavirus contamination, says new research. It found that increases in cases followed phases where the levels of fine particles in the air were higher.

An interdisciplinary team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the ETH Zurich spin-off Meteodat has investigated possible interactions between acutely elevated levels of fine particulate matter and the virulence of the coronavirus disease.

Their results suggest that high concentrations of PM 2.5 may modulate, or even amplify, the waves of SARS-CoV-2 contamination and explain in part the particular profile of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement.

The increase in fine particles is generally favored by air temperature inversions, characterised by fog situations, or by Saharan dust intrusions.

COVID-19 studies conducted in Italy and France suggest that SARS-CoV-2 was already present in Europe at the end of 2019, while the sharp increase in morbidity and mortality was only recorded in spring 2020 in Paris and London.

“This time lag is surprising, but also suggests that something else than just the mere interaction of people may promote the transmission of the virus, and particularly the severity of the infection,” said Mario Rohrer, whose research team has shown that these increases in cases followed phases where the levels of fine particles in the air were higher.

The Swiss research team shows that acute concentrations of fine particles, especially those smaller than 2.5 micrometers, cause inflammation of the respiratory, pulmonary and cardiovascular tracts and thicken the blood. “In combination with a viral infection, these inflammatory factors can lead to a serious progression of the disease,” added Rohrer.

The researchers emphasise that physiological, social or economic factors will clearly also influence the further course of the pandemic.

Photo: Graham Lewis/ Flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

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