If You Have This in Your Town, You're More Likely to Die From COVID-19

Experts say this one environmental factor strongly increases your risk of coronavirus-related death.

Public health experts have identified numerous factors that increase a person's risk of dying from coronavirus, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and stroke. However, there's a surprising aspect of many people's daily lives that could be causing their risk of coronavirus-related mortality to skyrocket. Worse yet, there's practically nothing they can do to stop it. According to Mary Prunicki, director of air pollution and health research at Stanford's Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research, there is a significant link between air pollution and a person's risk of dying from COVID-19.

"It is thought that particulate and nitrogen dioxide found in air pollution can act as vectors for the spread and survival of airborne particles such as COVID," she explained in an interview with MedicalXpress.

In an April study out of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, researchers discovered that an increase of just one microgram of particulate matter per cubic meter increased a person's risk of dying from COVID-19 by 8 percent.

two smoke stacks over
Shutterstock/LALS STOCK

However, despite the evidence that air pollution can increase a person's risk of becoming seriously ill with a respiratory illness like coronavirus, it's not necessarily a one-to-one correlation. According to a 2015 review of research published in Current Environmental Health Reports, poverty and poor air quality are inextricably linked around the globe, as are poverty and chronic health conditions. CDC research from 2013 reveals that conditions like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and asthma—all of which can exacerbate coronavirus symptoms—are also statistically linked to low socioeconomic status.

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"Air pollution triggers inflammation, which is the link for its association with many chronic diseases such as diabetes," explains physician Leann Poston, MD, a medical expert with Invigor Medical. She notes that both of these chronic medical conditions and high levels of air pollution disproportionately affect communities largely comprised of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).

While reducing these risk factors will likely take larger systemic change, there are ways to reduce your risk of transmitting or contracting coronavirus. In fact, wearing a mask may help address two pressing health issues in one fell swoop: In addition to reducing the spread of coronavirus, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology found that cloth masks filter up to 65 percent of standard particulate matter, like that common in air pollution. And if you want to make sure your face covering is doing its job, check out why This Mind-Blowing Trick Will Make Your Face Mask So Much Safer.

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