A new study led by researchers at Louisiana State University’s Superfund Research Program shows that children who are exposed to certain types of air pollution in the environment are more likely to develop community-acquired pneumonia, or CAP, and be hospitalized for longer periods of time. Social factors, including race and socio-economic status, have been found to be linked to life in high-risk areas for the CAP.
“This study contributes to the body of evidence linking poor respiratory health to exposure to ambient air pollution, especially dust particles from combustion,” said study co-author Stephanie Cormier, who leads LSU Superfund’s research program.
Studies conducted by scientists from the LSU Superfund Research Program show similar patterns for other respiratory diseases, including asthma, and recent data suggest effects for COVID-19.
Using data from a surveillance study by the Centers for Pediatric Pneumonia and Geographic Information Systems, the researchers identified high- and low-risk CAP areas in the Memphis area of Tennessee. They collected information, including the cause of the child’s pneumonia, such as a bacterial or viral infection, public-private health insurance, age, race, and exposure to particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers or PM2.5. These small particles in the air are released during industrial combustion, car exhaust and forest fires. PM2.5 is one of six air pollutants regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency or the EPA, and has been linked to higher levels of respiratory infections and many other health problems, including cardiovascular disease.
When analyzed independently, race, type of insurance and exposure to PM2.5 all were identified as significant risk factors related to living in areas with higher than expected CAP. However, race was the most important factor in living in a high-risk area. In the Memphis metropolitan area, black Spanish and non-Hispanic children were hospitalized for pneumonia at a significantly higher rate than white children.
Another important finding from this study is that the health risk associated with high PM2.5 occurred at levels below the current regulatory maximum standard set by the EPA.
The fact that we saw an increased risk of pediatric pneumonia in PM2.5 levels lower than those currently permitted by the EPA raises concerns and signals the need for continuous review and adjustment of policy based on evidence of health effects and information on exposure or risk such as this. “
Stephanie Cormier, co-author of the study
The World Health Organization recently lowered the maximum standards for particulate matter in the global environment to below the current maximum level of the EPA for the United States
This policy change and this new study are particularly significant in the context of the global pandemic COVID-19, which is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2.
“COVID-19 also causes pneumonia and our research shows that PM2.5 it can contribute to higher levels of infection and increased disease among those who get sick, “Cormier said.
A unique aspect of this study is that researchers evaluate PM2.5 concentrations using satellite data.
“Through incredible advances in technology, we have access to high-resolution satellite data that accurately captures information about environmental pollution around the world. We were able to use this data to improve specific neighborhoods where the hospitalization rate for children is higher than average. pneumonia to understand why, ”said Tony J. Oyana, lead author and professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Center and director of the College of Computer and Information Sciences at Makerer University, Uganda.
This study was published in the scientific journal Experimental biology and medicine and was selected as the main article in the magazine last month.
Louisiana State University
Reference in the magazine:
Oyana, TJ, et al. (2021) Exposure to particulate matter predicts residence in high-risk areas for community-acquired pneumonia among hospitalized children. Experimental biology and medicine. doi.org/10.1177/15353702211014456.