► What does the Italian study say?
The pollution may explain, at least in part, the speed at which the coronavirus epidemic has spread in northern Italy. This is what highlights a 6-page article published by the Italian Society of Environmental Medicine (1) and written by twelve researchers from the universities of Bologna, Bari, Milan and Trieste.
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Scientists have crossed the figures from the Environmental Protection Agency on concentrations of fine particles and those of the Civil Protection on patients of Covid-19 between February 10 and 29 (with an update on 3 March to take into account the incubation period of the virus). Supported graphics, it appears that the phases of” impulse “ or“Acceleration” are “Concomitant with the presence of high concentrations of atmospheric particles”, especially in Lombardy region “Characterized by three periods of exceedance of PM 10 concentrations well beyond the limits”. “Atmospheric particles could have played a role of” boost “”, they write in conclusion.
► What is the context?
Polluted air contains half a dozen components in the form of solid particles, gases or droplets (aerosols). Among the fine particles, there are PM 10 (diameter less than 10 microns, six times smaller than the thickness of a hair) and PM 2.5 (diameter less than 2.5 microns). Considered as the most harmful air pollutant for human health by the European Environment Agency, PM (from English particulate matter) enter the respiratory tract and can cause cancer, asthma, allergies, respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
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In fact, these fine particles “Constitute an effective vector for the transport, the propagation and the proliferation of viral infections”, reports the study. Hence the expression“Highways”, used by one of the authors, Gianluigi de Gennaro, in the Italian press.
Here, the effect even seems to have been twofold. “In addition to being a vector of the epidemic, fine particles constitute a substrate which allows the virus to remain in the air under viable conditions for several hours or even days”, advance the researchers. Strong air pollution explains why epidemic soared “In the Po plain more than in other regions of Italy”.
► What lessons?
This dangerous cocktail has already happened in the past. The study briefly discusses the case of bird flu in 2010, which may have “Spreading long distances through Asian dust storms “, as well as that of the human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), “Which causes pneumonia in children and is transported through particulate matter deep into the lungs”.
The researchers also recall that “The number of measles cases in 21 Chinese cities during the 2013-2014 period varied according to PM 2.5 concentrations”.
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To hear them, the only measures of “Social distancing” would not be enough. “As in previous cases of high spread of viral infection reported at high levels of atmospheric particulate contamination, it is suggested to take this contribution into account by calling for restrictive measures to contain pollution”, they conclude.