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Truth Behind the Headlines: New study links air pollution to 15 percent of COVID-19 deaths

The media are reporting that a new study is suggesting links between long term exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 deaths in 15% of cases globally.   


The authors of the quoted research said the deaths linked to COVID-19 and air pollution represented deaths that could have been avoided and that exposure to particulate matter in air likely aggravated other health conditions, leading to death from COVID-19. Specifically, the team noted that particulate matter appeared to increase the activity of a receptor on lung cell surfaces (ACE-2) which is known to be involved in the way COVID-19 infects patients. 


The paper estimates suggest that more than 6,100 COVID-19 deaths in the United Kingdom could be attributed to air pollution.  

Using our recommended five tips, Global Action Plan reviewed the study:


Questions to ask to get to the truth Our response
1. Does the article refer to a report to back up its claims?

The article refers to research published in the journal Cardiovascular Research. Regional and global contributions of air pollution to risk of death from COVID-19 

2. Who is behind the study it refers to?

The lead author works at the MaPlanck Institute for Chemistry, Atmospheric Chemistry Department in Germany. 

3. How fantastical and radical is the claim that is being made?

The researchers analysed health and disease data from the United States to determine the COVID-19 mortality rate ratio due to air pollution. 


Similarities in the results data from a Chinese study on the enhanced mortality rate due to air pollution derived for the Chinese SARS epidemic in 2003 gave the scientists confidence in their conclusions. 


They then used satellite data of global exposure to particulate matter and ground-based pollution monitoring networks.   


This allowed them to model and estimate the impact of air pollution as a factor in COVID-19 deaths in countries around the world, including the UK. 


4. What geographical region does the claim refer to?

The study looks at COVID-19 mortality worldwide and breaks the incidence data down by region.  

5. What is the sample size of the study?

The research was based on a study from the United States where COVID-19 death counts were collected for more than 3,000 counties across the country.  


The Chinese study analysed data from five regions accounting for 4,870 SARS cases.  


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