Scientists link air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in Italy

London, Apr 6 (IANS): An environmental researcher from Aarhus University in Denmark and health researchers from Italy have claimed there could be a link between the high mortality rate seen in northern Italy and the level of air pollution in the same region.

Environmental scientist Dario Caro from Department of Environmental Science, and two health researchers, Professor Bruno Frediani and Dr Edoardo Conticini from the University of Siena in Italy found yet another small piece in the puzzle of understanding the deadly disease that has killed nearly 16,000 in the country.

They focused on examining why the mortality rate is up to 12 per cent in the northern part of Italy while it is only approx 4.5 per cent in the rest of the country.

In research project published in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution, they demonstrated a probable correlation between air pollution and mortality in two of the worst affected regions in northern Italy: Lombardy and Emilia Romagna.

The population of the northern Italian regions lives in a higher level of air pollution, and this may lead to a number of complications for patients with COVID-19 in the regions, simply because their bodies may have already been weakened by the accumulated exposure to air pollution when they contract the disease.

"There are several factors affecting the course of patients' illness, and all over the world we're finding links and explanations of what is important. It's very important to stress that our results are not a counter-argument to the findings already made," said Caro.

"Our considerations must not let us neglect other factors responsible of the high lethality recorded: important co-factors such as the elevated medium age of the Italian population, the wide differences among Italian regional health systems, ICUs capacity and how the infects and deaths has been reported have had a paramount role in the lethality of SARS-CoV-2, presumably also more than pollution itself," he explained.

The two northern Italian regions are among the most air-polluted regions in Europe.

The article took its outset in data from the NASA Aura satellite, which has demonstrated very high levels of air pollution across precisely these two regions.

The group compared these data with the so-called Air Quality Index; a measurement of air quality developed by the European Environment Agency.

"All over the world, we're seeing different approaches from countries' authorities, in countries' general public health outset and in the standards and readiness of different countries' national healthcare systems," the authors wrote.

"This feeds hope that we may have found yet another factor in understanding the high mortality rate of the disease in northern Italy," Caro wrote.


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