Long-term exposure to air pollution could be a factor in the worsening symptoms of Covid-19, according to a government-commissioned report.
Findings from the Committee On The Medical Effects of Air Pollutants said there was not enough evidence available to suggest that pollution increases the risk of infection from the virus.
However, it can increase the severity of the disease once someone is infected, which can increase the chances of being hospitalised.
In the report, the committee said: ‘We conclude that, in the context of evidence for the effect of air pollution on lung infections more generally, long-term air pollution may be a contributory factor in worsening the symptoms of Covid-19.
‘Currently there are a limited number of good quality studies on Covid-19 and these studies are often inconsistent in their findings.
‘Based on evidence reviewed, published until the end of August 2022 there is not enough epidemiological evidence to suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease. There is more evidence that long-term exposure to PM2.5 air pollution can increase the severity of COVID-19 disease once someone is infected with SARS-CoV-2, with an increased risk of hospitalisation following infection.
‘The evidence for an increased risk of death from COVID-19 is less clear, with few studies available.’
The report added: ‘We acknowledge that studies linking air pollution and COVID-19 are difficult to conduct and hard to interpret. Studies need careful control for other factors that may influence exposure to the virus and severity of disease.
‘Higher concentrations of air pollution are more likely to occur in more deprived areas containing individuals at higher risk of infection and severe disease.’
Exposure to air pollution has previously been linked to the development and worsening of conditions, including cardiovascular and respiratory disease.
At the start of the pandemic, a number of studies underlined that short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution was a risk factor in terms of infection with Covid-19 virus and its severity.
The report added: ‘Exposure to air pollution may accelerate age-related decline in lung-associated immune function, increasing susceptibility to more severe or prolonged disease.’
Last month, hundreds of GPs and other health professionals urged the Labour Party to remain committed to tackling air pollution in the capital. London’s controversial Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) policy charges £12.50 daily to any drivers with vehicles that do not meet the minimum emissions standards.
Meanwhile, the start of the autumn Covid vaccination programme in England has been brought forward due to concerns over a new variant, and GPs will receive additional payments for each dose delivered.
A version of this article first appeared in our sister publication Pulse