- Exposure to pollution can lead to high chances of contracting flu
- Air pollution and influenza cause millions of deaths every year
- Both air pollution and influenza affect the body via the same biological pathway
Air pollution and Influenza virus, both, affect the human body via the same biological pathway and are the leading cause of millions of deaths each year. The question remains whether they interact with each other and compound the risk. According to a recent working paper from the US National Bureau of Economic Research, the exposure to air pollution indeed worsens the harms of seasonal influenza.
Joshua S. Graff Zivin of the University of California, San Diego along with other co-authors find the link using patient-level data on hospitalizations due to seasonal influenza in the US between 2007 and 2017. In the paper, they also suggest that given the relationship between the two hazards, their remedies also goes hand in hand with each other.
It was said that if in a year when the flu vaccine was more effective than normal, fewer flu hospitalisations were found to be attributable to pollution. The increased use of the vaccine shows a positive effect, too, and reduces the hospitalisations caused by influenza in a year of high pollution.
Similarly, the improved air quality was shown to compensate for a less effective vaccine.
The improvement in vaccine and the lower air pollution level benefitted the elderly the most. The research showed that a better return for Blacks and Hispanics, who are more exposed to the pollution hazard, from an effective vaccine.
Just 10% reduction in the air pollution, even with a case of poor vaccine, could bring the hospitalisation related to influenza by 8% in a year. In addition to this it was also found via the paper that a 10% improvement in vaccine take-up or effectiveness could save about $ 292 million (more than Rs 2.1 thousand crore) from the medical costs associated with the influenza.
It was acknowledged that neither influenza outbreaks nor air pollution levels could be predicted accurately as they depend on a plethora of variable factors. Hence the study findings are particularly useful as the protection against one could provide a cover against the other.
The researchers suggested that the policy solutions for both the hazards should work in conjunction. As economic activities resume after the long lockdown, pollution is set to increase and aggravate the risks of coronavirus infection. Thus, additional environmental controls need to be taken so they could serve as alternative policy measure.