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Fine particles directly affect infections and mortality due to Covid-19

A new Italian study suggests that fine particles directly affect infections and mortality due to Covid-19

We all know air quality is important for our health, even more now, in these times of the pandemic. Covid-19 is a new disease which still needs to be researched, but there are new discoveries coming up every day. A recent study done by Mauro Minelli, immunologist and visitor Professor of Clinical Immunology at the J.Monnet University of European Studies and Dr. Antonella Mattei, researcher in Medical Statistics at the Department of Life Sciences and Environment of the University of L’Aquila, shows that the protein that protects the body from damage of fine dust (precisely PM2.5) is the same that favors the harmful action of Sars Cov-2. It is known that pollution has a major impact on people’s health, but the study states that the greater incidence of infection on the world population is directly related to people’s exposure to PM2.5. That is, a mix of fine particles produced by industries, vehicles and other sources of particles with a diameter less than or equal to 2.5 microns; i.e., thousandths of a millimeter. The work of the two researchers has deepened the associative link between the Covid-19 incidence rates and PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), correlated to two further factors: population density, and elderly age index.

Minelli explained to ilfattoquotidiano.it: “We have seen ​​that exposure increases the incidence rate of Covid-19 by 2.79 patients per 10,000 people if the concentration of PM2.5 increases by one microgram per cubic meter of air, and 1.24 sick people per 10,000 people if the concentration of NO2 increases by one microgram per cubic meter of air”.

The Ecological Dynamic

The study aims to highlight how the health emergency is closely connected to a specific “ecological dynamic”. In fact, when our body is exposed to PM2.5 for a long time, to defend itself against dust it develops a protein called ACE2, but that protein becomes a trap: “ACE2 becomes a sort of lock for the virus and above all for its harmful action on the organism”, Minelli clarified. This thesis would explain the high rate of incidence, therefore of mortality, from Covid-19 in the northern regions of Italy compared to those in the center or southern regions.

What does the study say?

The study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health states that “individuals permanently exposed to medium or high levels of PM2.5 develop, due to a high expression of ACE2, a sort of automatic protection against the pulmonary inflammation produced from PM2.5 for the deadly chemical composition of this mixture of micropollutants. This particularity, however, may not be entirely useful and advantageous in the event that, as happens with Covid-19, the virus responsible for the disease uses ACE2 as a cellular internalization receptor. Therefore, ACE2 is the ‘lock’ through which Covid-19 ‘deceives’ the human cell, penetrates it, infects it and, consequently triggers the entire pathological process that characterizes the clinical picture”.

It is also interesting to note that in children, for example, it has been hypothesized that their lower vulnerability compared to the new coronavirus is due precisely to the fact that the ACE2 receptors may not be as developed, or have a different conformation than those of adults. 

In short, according to the study, the reason why Lombardy and Veneto are the most affected areas in Italy is due to the fact that those areas are “more massively and chronically exposed to high levels of PM2.5, which leads to an increased expression of ACE2 in the lungs” causing “the high rate of incidence and then also of mortality”. Another factor examined in the study is that population density is very high, especially in Lombardy. 

What is the impact of pollution on our health?

Minelli pointed out that the emission rate of the various pollutants – of course including PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide – collapsed during the first wave of Covid-19, as documented by the reports of a research program linked to the launch of the European Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite. At the very beginning of the summer there was a significant reduction in the number of Covid-19 cases. Then, after the lockdown, everything reopened, and consequently the pollution levels started to rise again. Could the second wave be linked to the real impossibility of generating a significant reduction in pollution, equal to that obtained during the first lockdown?

The study highlighted another reason to fight air pollution even more intensively and accurately. PlanetWatch begins this fight with accurate air quality monitoring. You can see the results on our PlanetWatch map, where a system of sensors connected to our network shows the quality of the air in your city.

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