Health

Importance of masks for protection against Covid-19 and air pollution

Health, according to the World Health Organization, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”.[1] A variety of definitions have been used for different purposes over time. Health can be promoted by encouraging healthful activities, such as regular physical exercise and adequate sleep,[2] and by reducing or avoiding unhealthful activities or situations, such as smoking or excessive stress. Some factors affecting health are due to individual choices, such as whether to engage in a high-risk behavior, while others are due to structural causes, such as whether the society is arranged in a way that makes it easier or harder for people to get necessary healthcare services. Still other factors are beyond both individual and group choices, such as genetic disorders.

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“We are facing two pandemics – Covid-19 and air pollution! Vaccination can help control Covid-19, but no one is immune to air pollution. Covid appropriate behaviour is the best strategy to prevent the transmission of Covid-19.  Masks are firefighting measures and a worthwhile investment,” Dr Rohini Kelkar MD., DPB., Senior Consultant, Infectious Diseases, Clinical Microbiology and Molecular Microbiology, Metropolis Healthcare Private Ltd, tells HealthShots.

As the threat of another wave of Covid-19 looms large, the expert points out that the virus can ride high on air pollution.

“Covid-19 is transmitted via large particles called droplets generated during coughing and sneezing or smaller particles called aerosols generated during speaking and breathing which flow with the air currents. The virus can remain viable and infectious in aerosols for hours and on surfaces for days. Air pollution from particulate matter consists of dust, dirt, soot, smoke and drops of liquid,” explains Dr Kelkar.

While the large particles like smoke are visible, small size particles 2.5µ are not. The latter can act as a carrier for droplet nuclei boosting the spread of the virus.

“Air pollution damages the lungs and can result in higher deaths from Covid-19. In clean air, with atmospheric agitation, droplets with virus evaporate or disperse into the atmosphere. In a stable atmosphere with high concentrations of particulate matter, viruses have a high probability of agglomerating with the particles and reducing their diffusion coefficient, increasing their amount of time and permanence in the atmosphere, and becoming more contagious. This is indeed a dangerous combination,” Dr Kelkar tells HealthShots.

The expert points at a recent Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) report, which concluded:

  • High levels of air pollution affect the defence mechanisms against infections making them more susceptible to Covid-19
  • Exposure to air pollution is a risk factor for persons with Covid-19 to develop serious complications including the need for hospitalization, mechanical ventilation, severe infection, and death
  • Poor air quality can worsen Covid-19’s toll on the body as well as increase its ability to spread

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