Coronavirus: This Could Be Why America Is Getting Hit Hard, Studies Say

In All Health Watch, Coronavirus, Featured Article, General Health, Health Warning, Immune Health

Most of us understand by now that COVID-19 is a disease of the lungs. It kills by destroying lung function.

But what you may not know is that our lungs are not only under assault from the coronavirus…a second factor is at work here. The air we breathe is also damaging our health. 

Two new studies reveal that air pollution in the U.S. may be making the pandemic far worse than it would be if our air was cleaner. 

Researchers at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed air pollution in 3,080 counties throughout the U.S. They found that areas with higher levels of PM 2.5 are linked with higher COVID-19 death rates.[i]

PM 2.5 stands for particulate matter. These are pollution particles less than 2.5 micrometers wide. That’s so small that it’s invisible. A human hair is about 70 micrometers wide. So this is about 30 times smaller.

Particles this tiny are extremely dangerous. When you inhale them, they travel deep into the lungs.[ii]

The main sources of PM 2.5 are car and truck exhaust.

Public health experts have long suspected an association between air pollution and higher chances of death or severe illness from COVID-19. The Harvard study has established a statistical link.[iii]

They concluded: “Long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe COVID-19 outcomes.”

PM 2.5 levels are measured in units of one microgram per cubic meter. They are currently at 25 in Manhattan, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic. The study authors found that if Manhattan had readings of 24—just one unit lower—it would have lost 248 fewer people to COVID-19 by the first week of April.[iv]

The paper concludes that even a small increase in long-term exposure to dirty air makes a big difference. The authors calculate that someone who has lived for decades in an area with high PM 2.5 levels is 15% more likely to die from COVID-19 than a person in a county with a level that’s just one unit lower.

Dr. Francesca Dominici led the study. She said the higher-pollution counties will be the ones to see “higher numbers of hospitalizations, higher numbers of deaths, and where many of the resources (to fight coronavirus) should be concentrated.”

Dr. Dominici warned that notoriously polluted areas such as the Central Valley of California and Ohio’s Cuyahoga County may see more severe COVID-19 cases.

A European study reached similar conclusions.

It was published in the journal Environmental Pollution. The authors noted that Northern Italy is one of the most polluted areas in Europe…And it has a COVID-19 death rate of 12% compared to 4.5% for the rest of Italy.[v]

The study authors wrote that air pollution “impairs the first line of defense of upper airways, namely the cilia (tiny hairlike organelles that keep foreign particles out of the lungs).” Therefore, a person living in an area with high levels of pollution “is more prone to develop chronic respiratory conditions and (is more vulnerable) to any infective agent.”[vi]

5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Air Pollution

Here are five strategies to reduce your exposure to air pollution:

  1. Get a HEPA filter. This is a mechanical air filter. (HEPA stands for “high-efficiency particulate air.”) These units are usually small and portable and work just for the room they are placed in. Get one and use it in areas of your home where you spend the most time.
  2. Don’t exercise near busy streets. If you jog or do any sort of outdoor exercising, keep to parks and nature trails. Don’t run alongside roads where car exhaust saturates the air. You might also consider buying a treadmill and running at home near a HEPA filter.
  3. Protect yourself in your car. Since vehicle exhaust is the primary source of PM 2.5, you are in the most danger when you’re on the road. Professor Stephen Holgate works on the British Medical Research Council. He says air pollution is “nine to 12 times higher inside the car than outside.”[vii]

    Most cars don’t have a climate control system that can filter out PM 2.5. The exceptions are high-end cars made by BMW, Mercedes, and Tesla. But you may be able to buy an aftermarket HEPA filter to replace your car’s cabin filter. Bosch makes one.
  4. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B. Columbia University researchers found that air pollution damage to health was “nearly reversed with four weeks of vitamin B supplementation.”

    The study participants took 50 mg of vitamin B6, 2.5 mg of folic acid (vitamin B9), and 1 mg of vitamin B12 daily. A quality B-complex formula should do the trick.[viii]
  5. Switch to electric lawn-care equipment. Small gas engines in mowers, trimmers, and chainsaws expose the user to heavy doses of pollutants. New electric versions often do the job just as well while being emission-free.

The purity of the air you breathe is as important to your wellness as the food you eat or the water you drink. Make sure that what goes in your lungs is not raising your risk of severe coronavirus.

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