Recent tests conducted in Italy found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, can cling to air pollutants.
The findings of the report can be a concern for India, especially Delhi where air pollution is a recurring problem, although both the researchers and experts said it remains to be seen if the virus remains viable and virulent on these particles.
Preliminary findings from the study suggest that if weather conditions are stable and concentrations of particulate matter (PM) are high, the virus could create clusters with PM.
Preliminary findings from the study suggest that if weather conditions are stable and concentrations of particulate matter (PM) are high, the virus could create clusters with PM. The experts suggest that there is no reason to panic yet because no assessments have been conducted on the viability of SARS-CoV- 2 when absorbed on PM.
The test results published in Medrxiv, a website on health research papers said that it needs to be studied what average PM concentrations are required for a potential “boost effect” to the outbreak. The study led by the University of Bologna and University of Trieste was conducted by collecting PM10 (coarse, respiratory pollution particles) from Italy’s Lombardy region.
The highest number of Covid-19 cases were recorded in Lombardy and Po Valley in northern Italy, an area also characterised by high concentrations of PM. Data available till April 12 shows about 30% of Covid-19 positive people live in Lombardy.
The research team conducted their studies on 34 PM10 samples from an industrial area in Bergamo collected with air samplers over a period of three weeks from February 21 to March 13. The study found several samples tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 gene markers.
India has among the highest PM concentrations globally. The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) under the Union ministry of health released a report in December 2018 which concluded that one in eight deaths in India in 2017 were due to air pollution.
The findings of ICMR published in The Lancet Planetary Health also found that air pollution lowers life expectancy by 1.7 years on average in India. India’s average annual PM 2.5 concentration was more than 80 micrograms per cubic metres in 2018, eight times the World Health Organization guideline for annual average PM2.5, according to a study by IIT-Delhi.
However, we cannot draw parallel with India or any other country, since the longevity of the virus on PM may vary with temperature and humidity. Unless such a relation is established, it is practically difficult to model for Indian condition. Nonetheless the study implies that risk is greater for airborne transmission in polluted places, a theory proven true in the USA, Italy, UK so far (based on studies reported).