Is exposure to airborne fine and ultrafine particulate matter a determining factor in COVID-19 infection and outcome within the UK?
The successfully awarded research project through a rapid funding call by Health Data Research UK, Office for National Statistics and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is led by Kevin Wyche, Kirsty Smallbone, Rebecca Cordell, Georgios Maniatis, Anna Hansell, Paul Monks (University of Brighton). The research project is building on existing UKRI and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) work to use national data to answer this key COVID-19 research question.
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Studies have shown that fine and ultrafine particles in air pollution are bad for our health and the smallest of these particles can even pass from our lungs into our bloodstream. This can cause inflammation and cardiovascular issues.
Ultimately, we want to find out if exposure to these types particles in air pollution can worsen the symptoms of COVID-19, in particular cardiovascular (heart and blood) and respiratory (breathing) issues.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic we have been working to find out more information to see how levels of these particular air polluting particles changed because of the national lockdown. We now have a unique dataset of particles from across seven locations in England that includes measurements of the number concentration of different sizes of ultrafine, i.e. nano-particles, in the air. We will use these data to try and understand more about air pollution and particles under ‘normal’ and lockdown conditions, and whether exposure to them can cause people who get COVID-19 to become sicker. This will help to improve our understanding of if COVID-19 is worse for people who have been exposed to higher levels of air pollution compared to those who breathe cleaner air, and then to ultimately help protect the public.
The findings from this project will be used to inform future air quality policy and possibly to provide pollution alerts to the public.