Solid particles and volatile toxins in the air damage the respiratory tract, increase the risk of atherosclerosis, cancer, kidney disease or mental disorders and also promote infectious diseases. This is due to several mechanisms.
Take note – according to a new report just published in the prestigious “The Lancet,” polluted air kills 6.5 million people in the world every year. Worse, the number is growing. Most deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. In Poland, nearly 50,000 people die prematurely every year as a result of the main types of pollution. people.
For a long time, studies have shown various consequences of the effects of toxic and volatile substances in the air, even at concentrations previously considered safe. A greater risk of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer, premature births, kidney damage, mental problems – these are just some of the consequences. It turns out that there is another downside to air pollutants: They make it easier for pathogenic germs to infect humans.
COVID-19 is more dangerous because of toxins
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot about this. Early on, scientists from the University of Siena noticed that the highest number of deaths from COVID-19 occurred in Lombardy and the Emilia-Romagna region – places at the forefront of air pollution levels in Europe.
†We provide evidence that people living in highly polluted areas are more likely to develop chronic respiratory disease and are more susceptible to infectious agents. In addition, long-term exposure to air pollution leads to chronic inflammation, even in young, healthy people. We conclude that the high level of pollution in the north of Italy should be considered as one of the factors behind the high mortality in this region.– scientists write in their work.
Meanwhile, subsequent scientific studies point to links between exposure to airborne pollutants and the risk of severe COVID-19 course. For example, a team from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health reported an association between recent years of exposure to airborne toxins and the risk of dying from COVID-19. The risk of death grew by as much as 11 percent. for every microgram of PM 2.5 particles per cubic meter. The annual WHO standard is 10 g and the recommended value is 5 g.
†In places where air pollution is a chronic problem, we need to pay special attention to people who are particularly vulnerable or sensitive to polluted air, such as the homeless or people with chronic medical problems. These people may need even more help than they did before the coronavirus outbreakPointing out one of the study’s authors, Dr. Aaron Bernstein.
Faced with such results, researchers from an international group including the Institute of Atmospheric Chemistry and Chemistry Max Planck have looked at the problem worldwide. Based on epidemiological data and satellite information on air pollution, they estimate their likely impact on COVID-19 deaths in different parts of the world. According to the results, the particulate matter in the air contributed up to 15 percent in total worldwide. deaths, including up to 17% in North America, 19 percent – in Europe and a whopping 27 percent. – in East Asia.
Several infections more likely
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not the only disease favored by poor air quality. A University of Washington team found a link between levels of certain pollutants over the past 2-6 weeks and an increased risk of current respiratory infections in a group of several thousand people ages 44 to 84.
†Our study provides evidence that higher exposure to PM2.5 particulates, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide contributes to an increased risk of common, but mostly self-limiting, respiratory infections. The potential burden of these diseases – reduced productivity, use of health care resources, use of antibiotics – suggests that controlling particulate pollution and tailpipe emissions could have significant individual and social benefits.– scientists write.
There are more comparable results, as shown by eg a review of the scientific literature on the correlation between outdoor air pollution and respiratory viral infections by experts from the Spanish ‘Universitat Rovira i Virgili’. Researchers speak of a “clear link” between disease and the toxins in the air found in several studies.
It is harder for a poisoned organism to defend itself
Toxic particles and gases promote infection in several ways. Under the influence of pollution, for example, the cilia in the respiratory tract are damaged. Meanwhile, it is the first line of defense against pathogens. In addition, oxidative stress damages the epithelium, making it easier for germs to overcome this barrier. It turns out that toxins also alter the function of immune system cells, including the activity of their genes. Sometimes there are also changes that specifically facilitate the task of a particular germ. This is likely the case with SARS-CoV2.
Laboratory studies have shown that the particulate matter and nitric oxide increase the production of ACE2 protein, and it is with its help that the virus enters the cells. At the same time, since polluted air practically weakens the entire organism exposed to it, it is more difficult for the patient to cope with a disease. Poor quality air can also block the sun’s rays and affect the production of vitamin D, which is important for immunity. Some studies also indicate that toxic particles make it easier for viruses to travel greater distances, but other experiments contradict this.
Carbon black immunizes bacteria
Bacteria can use the toxic particles in a way that is dangerous to humans. Well, a team from the University of Leicester reports that atmospheric soot, ie aerosol-forming soot particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers”drastically alter the formation of biofilms by bacteria“. A biofilm is a structure made of many bacterial cells surrounded by different substances that produce microbes. It adheres well to different substrates and is difficult to remove. It is also much more difficult to interact with the bacteria in the biofilm with drugs. This is why the formation of such structures plays a key role in the development of bacterial diseases, especially chronic ones.
Scientists have noted the effect of carbon black on the formation of biofilms from split pneumonia, as well as Staphylococcus aureus. What is especially important is that the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics has increased. Experiments on mice showed the effects of the described changes. For example, carbon black facilitated the spread of a virus infection from the nasopharynx to the lungs.
†Our research shows that air pollution has a significant effect on previously overlooked bacteria. These results therefore have important implications for the impact of air pollution on human health and bacterial ecosystems around the world– write the researchers.
The conclusion from this, as from other studies, is one: caring for the air is a must.
Source of information: PAP / Serwis Zdrowie, drawing Krzysztof Rosiecki
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