Flemish scientists to research impact of pollution on corona patients

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foto Peter Hilz (C)

Flemish scientists to research impact of pollution on corona patients

Flemish scientists are investigating whether exposure to air pollution means people are being affected more by COVID-19.  Foreign research suggests there are more corona deaths in polluted areas.  To discover whether this is the case Flemish scientists are now comparing individual cases.

The figures show 9,400 early deaths in Belgium last year as a result of pollution.  Particulate matter and nitrogen oxide are the main causes.  Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent are blackspots due to high population concentrations, the high volume of traffic, proximity of Germany’s Ruhr and our own industries.

Hasselt and Leuven universities have built up quite a lot of expertise in this field over the years.  Researchers at Hasselt University have looked at the impact of pollution on 2,000 critical care patients at Antwerp University Hospital.  Patients exposed to pollution needed ventilation for longer. The nature of their illness was not even a factor.

The research will now be repeated on 500 corona patients from critical care wards at various hospitals.  Researchers want to find out whether exposure to pollution in the days before hospitalisation impacted on the length of time patients spent on a ventilator in critical care and whether their survival chances were affecetd. Future patients will also have to be followed to allow researchers to draw sound conclusions, so the research could take several years.

Meanwhile researchers at Leuven University have plans to look into the transmission of the disease in the open air and indoors.  Italian researchers have claimed that corona virus can latch onto polluted air particles and lead to transmission over longer distances. Flemish scientists are sceptical but wish to research the matter thoroughly.  They intend to look for traces of viruses in particulate matter at Flemish environment company and science and health institute measuring points.

The researchers stress that presence of the virus doesn’t mean infection will occur as large quantities of virus are usually needed.

Air pollution may play a role in the severity of the disease, though Flemish researchers are not convinced it can help in the spread.

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