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Studies Find Covid-19 in PM2.5 Particles, Establish Pollution Link to Higher Death Rate: ICMR

People watch as an effigy of Kumbhkarana, brother of demon king Ravana, burns during Dussehra festival celebrations, contributing to air pollution amid the Covid-19 outbreak, in New Delhi, on October 25, 2020. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)

People watch as an effigy of Kumbhkarana, brother of demon king Ravana, burns during Dussehra festival celebrations, contributing to air pollution amid the Covid-19 outbreak, in New Delhi, on October 25, 2020. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)

A study done by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston found that an increase of only 1μg/m3 in PM2.5 particles is associated with a 15% increase in the Covid-19 death rate.

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Sneha Mordani

Citing a report that links air pollution to higher mortality in Covid-19 cases, the government on Tuesday said that studies in Europe and US have established a connection between Covid mortality and pollution.

Professor Balram Bhargava, Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said that there indeed is a connection between PM2.5 particles and that the coronavirus has been found in these suspended particles. “It could be dead as well,” he told News18.

Bhargava was referring to the study done by researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston. The analysis was done in 3,000 US counties covering 98% of the population. The study had found that an increase of only 1μg/m3 in PM2.5 particles is associated with a 15% increase in the Covid-19 death rate.

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An ecological study done in 2003 in China had shown that among five regions with 100 or more SARS cases, case fatality rate increased with worsening air pollution. In this study, the relationship between air pollution and SARS case fatality was explored via an ecologic study design.

Another study done in Italy had found that atmospheric pollution was a major co-factor in extremely high level of SARS-CoV-2 lethality in northern part of the country. “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 study had concluded.

A study by researchers at Harvard University in the US in September showed that an increase of only one microgram per cubic metre in PM 2.5 is associated with an 8 per cent increase in the Covid-19 death rate.

“Given the current limited literature, the surge of PM2.5 level in Delhi may be associated with increased Covid-19 cases ... Although the literature is relatively sparse sparse at this stage,” Xiao Wu, corresponding author of the Harvard study, told news agency PTI.

Controlling pollution in that sense would lead to also saving people from dying from COVID 19 in the most polluted cities in India, the national capital being one of the worst-affected.

India also leads the list of 10 countries with the highest weighted average exposure to particulate matter. Hundred percent Indians breathe in toxic air, suggests a report called the State of Global Air 2020.

India has been hit hard by the pandemic, with the second largest number of cases in the world. Though India’s death rate has been among the lowest in the world, the absolute numbers are high at 1,20,000.

“Rapid adoption of masks is the most inexpensive but effective approach to this situation” Professor Bhargava said.


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