Coronavirus | Air pollution may further impact patients, say doctors

Those in polluted regions and with compromised lung function should take extra care, they say.

Updated - December 03, 2021 06:47 am IST

Published - March 17, 2020 09:36 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Representational image.

Representational image.

A collective of doctors working on health impacts of air pollution has warned that people living regions with high levels of air pollution and with compromised lung function could be more vulnerable to coronavirus ( COVID-19 ).

State Helpline numbers | A map of confirmed cases in India

The Doctors For Clean Air (DFCA) has warned that compromised lung function due to air pollution could lead to serious complications in patients affected by the pandemic .

“Exposure to air pollution in long term reduces the capacity of organs to function fully and makes it more vulnerable to infections and diseases. In the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, such individuals are likely to face severe complications”, said the DFCA.

The collective has Arvind Kumar, director, Institute of Robotic Surgery, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital; Raja Dhar, director, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital; and Sundeep Salvi, director, Chest Research Foundation, among others.

A statement issued by them noted that there was so far no proven links between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality.

``However, previous strains of coronavirus like SARS have known to cause higher deaths in regions with high levels of air pollution,’’ said Dr. Kumar.

A study, which appeared in Environmental Health: A Global Access Service Source , compared the SARS death rates and air pollution levels in five different regions of China between April and May 2003, when the majority of SARS cases were diagnosed.

Researchers found that the SARS death rates increased as pollution levels increased, ranging from about 4% in regions with low air pollution to 7.5% and 9% in regions with moderate or high air pollution levels, respectively.

The DFCA has asked people, especially those who live in polluted urban centers and those who have pre-existing conditions of lung or heart diseases, to take extra precautions of maintaining hygiene, social distancing and immediately seeking medical help in case they show symptoms of cold, fever and breathlessness.

Call to government

It has urged the government to formulate long-term plans to reduce air pollution in the country. It has sought stricter enforcements of thermal power plant emission norms, regulation of emissions from diesel and petrol vehicles and strict enforcement of construction and solid waste norms so that the sources of air pollution can be tackled.

“The only way for India to fight COVID-19 or future pandemics would be if its environment is protected. This pandemic has made us realise the value of clean air and this should be a key lesson for going forward in building resilience in our country”, the DFCA noted.

Every year, 12 lakh Indians died from breathing poor quality air. Air pollution was one of India’s biggest killers. Globally, outdoor air pollution caused three million premature deaths in 2012 – roughly the same as the toll from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined. Pollution affected health and quality of life throughout the life course, with evidence of links to cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, changes linked to dementia, and harmful effects on the foetus and young child. In Delhi, one in every 4 children had irreversible lung damage. This crisis was costing India 3% of it’s GDP annually. Despite these well-documented consequences, 92 per cent of the world’s population lived in places where air quality levels exceeded the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, it said.

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