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Pollution may make the coronavirus even worse — here’s how to protect yourself

Atmospheric pollution may be “giving a helping hand” to the coronavirus, according to a new paper by Italian researchers from the University of Bologna.

The paper has not yet been peer-reviewed, according to the Economist, but that’s not unusual right now when it comes to coronavirus research, due to the sheer speed at which the virus is spreading and the urgent search for solutions.

The research team looked at why the virus spread a lot faster in northern Italy’s Po Valley than in other parts of the country. Their hypothesis is that it’s due to pollution, or particulate matter, which is far more prevalent in that geographical area.

The Economist continues:

In the paper, the researchers cite previous work from other places which suggests that influenza viruses, respiratory syncytial viruses and measles viruses can all spread by hitching lifts on such particles. And they make a good case that, allowing for a 14-day delay caused by SARS-COV-2’s incubation period, the daily rates of new infections in the Po valley correlate closely with the level of particulate pollution.

How can you protect your lungs?

Air pollution already aggravates respiratory problems like asthma. And respiratory problems make people more susceptible to coronavirus, since it attacks the lungs. (That’s why the EPA environmental law enforcement rollback is so harmful.)

According to the New York TimesMeredith McCormack, spokesperson for the American Lung Association and associate professor of pulmonary and critical care at Johns Hopkins University, said:

Increased pollution increases susceptibility to infection. All things being equal, a person exposed to air pollution would likely have a worse outcome if they were exposed to coronavirus.

So the best way to protect your lungs is to stay away from outdoor polluted areas as much as possible, and also do the following to keep your indoor air clean:

  • Stop smoking, period. Or at the very least, don’t smoke indoors.
  • Cook with good ventilation. Either use your stove’s ventilation hood, and/or open a window.
  • If it’s in the budget and you can get one, buy an air purifier. (Amazon has them, for example, but you’ll have to wait a couple weeks for delivery, as Amazon is prioritizing items it considers essential.)
  • If there’s a musty smell in your house, then look for and get rid of any mold in your home, as mold is very bad for health.
  • Pest-proof your home, as roaches and rodents’ saliva and feces (yes, ugh) can irritate lungs.
  • If you have medication for respiratory illness, make sure you take it.

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.