New research suggests that air pollution may have an effect on the number of people who die from COVID-19.
The rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has meant that there has been little time for scientists to determine what affects its speed of transmission and how lethal it can be.
Scientists have, however, already identified some factors that might affect the lethality of COVID-19. These factors include underlying health conditions, a person’s age, and their sex.
They have based this information on data inferred from previous viral respiratory illnesses or from countries, such as Italy or China, that had early exposure to the virus.
The researchers discovered a possible correlation that scientists had not previously addressed a link between air pollution and the number of deaths from COVID-19.
This correlation became apparent when they looked at the situation in Italy.
Official figures from the Italian government show a significant variation in the lethality of the virus, depending on geographic areas.
According to these figures, northern regions of Italy, such as Lombardy or Emilia Romagna, saw a lethality rate of 12%. In the rest of the country, the lethality rate was around 4.5%.
The authors note that there may be a range of explanations for these variations.
The differences may be due to the way each region records deaths and infections or the fact that these two regions had relatively older populations.
The researchers suggest that air pollution is another possible factor that could explain this variation.
As well as having a significantly higher death rate from COVID-19, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna also have some of the worst air pollution levels, not just in Italy, but across all of Europe.
The researchers drew on data from the NASA Aura satellite and the European Environment Agency’s Air Quality Index.
The two datasets enable a clear and accurate picture of the relative air pollution in different geographic regions across Europe.
As well as being major centers for industrial production, which are a key cause of air pollution, the authors note that the geographic and climatic conditions of Northern Italy also exacerbate air pollution.
They add that it is more able to stagnate there than in other parts of the country.