Coronavirus: Significantly more deaths in regions with high levels of air pollution

Coronavirus: Significantly more deaths in regions with high levels of air pollution

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COVID-19: Air pollution could affect the course of the disease

The latest coronavirus infection and death rates are reported daily in the media. It shows that there are significant differences in mortality rates between different countries. One explanation for this could be the different levels of air pollution in the different regions.

The number of deaths from coronavirus diseases (COVID-19) in Germany is comparatively low compared to the number of proven infections. In countries like Italy, the mortality rate is significantly higher. According to experts, the differences can be explained, among other things, with the age structure and medical conditions. Air pollution could also play a role.

More deaths in regions with a permanently high pollution level

According to a recent announcement by the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), high levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air could be linked to high deaths as a result of COVID-19 diseases. A new study by the LMU provides concrete figures for this assumption for the first time.

The work reportedly combines satellite data on air pollution and air flows with confirmed deaths related to COVID-19. The study shows that regions with permanently high pollution levels have significantly more deaths than other regions.

The results were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Coronavirus affects the airways

As explained in the communication, nitrogen dioxide is an air pollutant that damages human respiratory tract. It has been known for many years that it can promote numerous respiratory diseases or cardiovascular problems in humans.

"Since the novel coronavirus also affects the airways, it is reasonable to assume that there could be a connection between air pollution and the death rate in Covid-19," said Dr. Yaron Ogen from the MLU Institute of Earth Sciences and Geography.

To date, however, there have been no reliable figures for this.

Hotspots with high air pollution and little air movement

In the new study, the geoscientist combined three data sets with one another: The measurements of the regional exposure to nitrogen dioxide come from the Sentinel 5P satellite from the European Space Agency, which continuously monitors the air pollution of the earth.

Based on this data, the expert created a global overview for regions with a high and long-lasting nitrogen dioxide pollution. "I looked at January and February this year before the Corona outbreaks started in Europe," explains Ogen.

The researcher combined this data with the information provided by the US weather agency NOAA on vertical air flows.

The idea behind it: If the air is in motion, the pollutants near the ground are also distributed more. But if the air stays on the ground, this also applies to the pollutants in the air, which are more likely to be inhaled by humans and lead to health problems.

With the help of this data, the scientist was able to identify hotspots worldwide with high air pollution and at the same time low air movement.

High levels of nitrogen dioxide

Ogen then compared this to the deaths associated with COVID-19. He specifically analyzed the information from Italy, France, Spain and Germany.

It turned out that the regions in particular have a high death rate in which both the nitrogen dioxide pollution is particularly high and the vertical air exchange is particularly low.

“If we look at northern Italy, the greater Madrid area or the Wuhan province in China, for example, we see a special feature: they are all surrounded by mountains. This makes it even more likely that the air in these regions is stable and the pollution level is higher, ”explains Ogen.

According to Ogen, the advantage of his analysis is that it starts at the level of individual regions and does not only compare countries with each other. For a country, there could be an average value for air pollution, but this could be very different from region to region and is therefore not a reliable indicator, according to the scientist.

Poor health in the affected regions

Ogen believes that this prolonged air pollution could have resulted in poorer overall health for the affected regions and is therefore particularly vulnerable to the virus.

"However, my work on the subject is only a first indication that there is apparently a connection between the degree of air pollution, air movement and the severity of the course of corona outbreaks," said the geoscientist.

This relationship should now be examined for other regions and placed in a larger context. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU): Corona and air pollution: What influence does nitrogen dioxide have on the course of the disease ?, (access: April 20, 2020), Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU)
  • YaronOgen: Assessing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels as a contributing factor to coronavirus (COVID-19) fatality; in: Science of the Total Environment, (published: April 11, 2020), Science of the Total Environment

Video: Air quality improvements during the COVID-19 lockdown (October 2022).