WEDNESDAY, April 22, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Parts of Europe with consistently high levels of air pollution have higher COVID-19 death rates, a new study finds.
The study compared confirmed COVID-19 deaths with air quality data, including satellite readings of nitrogen dioxide air pollution.
Nitrogen dioxide damages the respiratory tract and is known to cause many types of respiratory and heart diseases, according to study author Yaron Ogen. He's a postdoctoral researcher at Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, in Germany.
"Since the novel coronavirus also affects the respiratory tract, it is reasonable to assume that there might be a correlation between air pollution and the number of deaths from COVID-19," Ogen said.
For the study, Ogen compared the nitrogen dioxide pollution data with COVID-19 deaths in Italy, France, Spain and Germany. Regions with a high number of COVID-19 deaths had high levels of nitrogen dioxide and low levels of air movement.
"When we look at Northern Italy, the area around Madrid, and Hubei Province in China, for example, they all have something in common: they are surrounded by mountains. This makes it even more likely that the air in these regions is stable and pollution levels are higher," Ogen said in a university news release.
When there is little air movement, pollutants are more likely to be inhaled in greater amounts, leading to health problems, he explained.
And persistent air pollution in some regions could have led to overall poorer health, making residents particularly susceptible to the coronavirus, he added.
"However, my research on the topic is only an initial indication that there might be a correlation between the level of air pollution, air movement and the severity of the course of the corona outbreaks," said Ogen. He said further research is needed to confirm the findings.
The study was published online recently in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.