Carnegie Mellon University
April 07, 2020

Karen Clay speaks with State Impact about COVID-19 and air pollution

Can air pollution make coronavirus worse? Scientists say yes — possibly in both cases and severity. A few years ago, EPP courtesy professor Karen Clay and two other scientists studied the death rates for the 1918 flu pandemic in the U.S. They were interested in whether more people died in cities with high levels of air pollution than those in cities with cleaner air. 

The study found that death rates were about 10 percent higher in cities with the dirtiest air, accounting for an additional 30,000 to 42,000 deaths in the U.S. For Clay, the results are further evidence air pollution plays a role in the spread and severity of infectious disease, especially respiratory infections like COVID-19. “The basic idea is that air pollution tends to irritate and inflame the respiratory system,” Clay said. “When you’re exposed to a virus, it makes it more likely that the virus can gain a foothold in your respiratory system."

For more information about how air pollution maybe exacerbate coronavirus symptoms, go here.