New research presented at Euroanaesthesia 2022 finds that long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to a greater risk of severe COVID-19.

Findings from the study show that people living in counties with higher levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were more likely to need ICU care and mechanical ventilation if they had COVID-19. Long-term exposure to NO2 can have harmful effects on the lungs. This includes damage to the endothelial cells, which play a key role in oxygen transfer.

Dr Susanne Koch of the Department of Anaesthesiology & Intensive Care, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany, and colleagues explored the impact of long-term air pollution on the need for ICU treatment and mechanical ventilation of COVID-19 patients.

Air pollution data from 2010 to 2019 was used to calculate the long-term annual mean level of NO2 for each county in Germany. This ranged from 4.6 µg/m³ to 32 µg/m³, with the highest level in Frankfurt and the lowest in Suhl, a small county in Thuringia. Three hundred ninety-two out of Germany’s 402 counties were included in the analysis.

Study results show a greater need for ICU treatment and mechanical ventilation of COVID-19 patients in counties with higher long-term annual mean NO2 levels. Each 1 µg/m³ increase in long-term annual mean NO2 concentration was associated with a 3.2% increase in the number of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and a 3.5% increase in the number of COVID-19 patients who needed mechanical ventilation.

On average, 28 ICU beds and 19 ventilators were needed for COVID-19 patients in each of the ten counties with the lowest long-term NO2 exposure compared to 144 ICU beds and 102 ventilators in the ten counties with the highest long-term NO2 exposure.

These results align with other recent studies that also link long-term NO2 exposure with a higher COVID-19 incidence and a higher fatality rate.

Source: Euroanaesthesia Congress 2022

Image Credit: iStock

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