Pollution and Coronavirus Pandemic Could Spell Double Trouble for Delhiites This Winter

Representative image.

Representative image.

With the festive season being round the corner, there are chances that there will be more movement of people especially in crowded places and now that the pollution levels are rapidly rising, this can further result in the infection spreading fast.


Dr. Sandeep Nayar

Farmers have been burning stubble, year after year, and the smoke directly affects Delhi and its residents. While this does not bear any correlation to the spread of Covid-19, it will definitely worsen the severity of the disease. This will prove to be a double-edged sword for anyone with Covid-19, as also being exposed to smoke, would mean that the symptoms will only become more acute.

The intensity of inflammation and injury will only double which would mean that one plus one will not be just two, but actually eleven. People in Delhi are going to have a tough time because the body will respond in an exaggerated way, which may cause severe fever, breathlessness, watery eyes, and even injury to lungs and other vital organs.

The biggest concern is the PM 2.5 or micropollutants that are smaller, as they can go straight into our lungs and even penetrate the alveoli, thereby entering the blood vessels causing the epithelial lining, which protects our body, to constantly denude. This will not only cause injury but also expose the body to further infection compromising the immune system. Particle pollution can result in potentially harmful effects leading to heart diseases, lung cancer, and asthma attacks. So, in addition to Covid-19, there is a likelihood of the incidence of respiratory diseases being greater this winter season.

Severe acute respiratory viruses, including coronaviruses, have a high incidence of infection in winter, particularly in temperate regions. The major drivers for increased respiratory tract infections are dry and cold conditions during winter as they increase the stability and transmission of viruses and weaken the host immune system.

With the festive season being round the corner, there are chances that there will be more movement of people especially in crowded places and now that the pollution levels are rapidly rising, this can further result in the infection spreading fast.

Whether SARS-COV-2 will eventually become seasonal or continue to circulate all year round remains unclear. The pathogenesis of SARS is extremely complex, with multiple factors contributing to serious lung damage and the spread of the virus to several other organs. By avoiding crowding and adopting festival SOPs, preferring to remain indoors rather than going to markets, one can prevent oneself from being affected by COVID-related respiratory problems.

The new coronavirus spreads through mucus and droplets. When an individual coughs or sneezes, as many as 40,000 droplets, and mucus come out. Many droplets are small and stay suspended for some time in the air. These droplets could reach individuals as far as 18 feet away.

The aim of all of us wearing face coverings or surgical masks anywhere people gather is to protect others whether we sneeze or cough. In fact, a recently published research shows that surgical masks can also minimise the amount of aerosolized virus created by breathing and speaking by individuals.

Covid-19 is often more severe in people who are over 60 years of age or in pregnant women with co-morbidities such as lung or heart diseases, diabetes, prolonged bronchitis, or conditions that affect their immune system. Malnourished people and those who are sick and immunocompromised are equally susceptible to Covid-19.

Adults of any age category with the following conditions, too, face the danger of being exposed to the virus that causes Covid-19:

• Cancer

• Obesity

• Chronic kidney disease

• Sickle cell disease

• Asthma (moderate-to-acute)

• Neurologic conditions like dementia

• Pulmonary fibrosis

• Thalassemia

• Cystic fibrosis

Current evidence states that children with underlying medical conditions are at an increased risk of serious illness compared to children who have no past record of being affected with medical conditions. The following types of health conditions may prove to be harmful to children:

• Acute genetic disorders

• Inherited neurological disorders

• Congenital heart disease

• Immunosuppression due to immunosuppressive drugs

• Obesity

• Metabolic disorders

One can also be immunocompromised due to any other disease such as lung, kidney, or heart problems and they are more prone to worsening of these problems because of the Covid-19 infection. Anyone who is employed and has to go outside such as doctors, journalists, and government employees are also more susceptible to catch the infection. So, one should try to protect themselves as much as possible by practicing proper mask-wearing, hand hygiene, and social distancing.

People who face a higher risk of serious illness due to Covid-19 and those living around them, should assess their level of risk and ensure that they take steps to safeguard themselves. Consider avoiding activities where it may be difficult to take protective measures, such as activities where social distance cannot be maintained. Everyone should take steps to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and to protect themselves, their communities, and people who face the risk of being affected with serious illness.

If you are really required to engage in public activities, continue to safeguard yourself by carrying out daily preventive actions. Do carry these items with you and use them when going outside: a mask, tissues along with a hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60% alcohol. If possible, try to maintain a distance from individuals who are not wearing masks.

All those who were in the process of getting vaccinated for other viruses must continue to get vaccinated. One must not think that Covid-19 is the only viral infection around, and believe that it’s okay to not get vaccinated. Although the flu vaccine will not protect against Covid-19, there are some important benefits. Flu vaccines lower the incidence of hospitalisation and death as well as the risk of flu. Additionally, a flu shot can spare one from availing health care resources.

It is also advisable that all those patients who have heart and lung ailments continue their medicines as before and not give up on those medicines, even if they feel better unless their doctor tells them to do so because these conditions can worsen anytime.

Hydration and nutrition are the main weapons in the battle against Covid-19; they play the lead role in building the body’s response and recovery from the ailment. It is important that we keep taking water and other beverages at regular intervals. Our body’s fluid losses require to be replaced as they thin respiratory secretion. Beverages are especially beneficial because they provide the body with calories, vital electrolytes, and minerals that it requires to function.

Dr Sandeep Nayar is Senior Director & HOD in the Department of Chest & Respiratory Diseases at BLK Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

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