Even short-term air pollution exposure is risky, especially for young children

A new study showed that even a short-term increase in fine particulates in the air increases the risk of developing respiratory viral infections that can turn into different diseases, such as bronchiolitis.

Scientists in the U.S. collected information on PM2.5 concentration levels in the air of eight districts along the Wasatch Front in Utah, including Salt Lake City. This area, where roughly 80% of Utah’s population lives, experiences significant changes in air pollution due to various factors.

The team then compared these data with data on the number of patients from local hospitals and medical centers during the same period that was diagnosed with an acute lower respiratory infection. The results of the study show that an increase in the number of such diagnoses follows the increase in air pollution in previous weeks. “There is some connection between air pollution and acute lower respiratory infections. It may be that PM2.5 causes damage to the airway so that a virus can successfully cause an infection or that PM2.5 impairs the immune response so that the body mounts a less effective response in fighting off the infection,” said Benjamin D. Horne, PhD, from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the lead author of the research.

According to the analyzed data, that included more than 140,000 people who, between 1999 and 2016, were diagnosed with an acute respiratory infection of the lower respiratory tract, three-quarters of diagnoses were given to children under the age of two, and most of them had bronchiolitis. In some cases, infections were fatal: 26 children and 81 adults died within a month. The reason for the high proportion of young children may be due to the fact that they are more vulnerable to infections.

After taking into account factors such as day of the week, the season and the weather, the scientists found that a short-term exposure to elevated PM2.5 of every 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air increased the likelihood of an acute lower respiratory infection in the next four weeks by 15-32%, depending on the individual’s age.

According to Dr. Horne, approximately 60% of children in the United States live in counties where PM2.5 concentrations are above air quality standards. The data suggest that preventive measures such as avoiding areas with heavy traffic or more frequent hand washing after the periods of increased air pollution can reduce the risk of infection. “There’s no reason to panic here,” added Horne, “When air pollution is high, avoid idling cars, stay indoors or go out in the early morning when pollution is usually lower. We don’t have to feel like we’re victims.”

This research was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *