Bad air, Covid make for noxious cocktailDeteriorating air quality in Kathmandu Valley could exacerbate severity, deaths from coronavirus infection, doctors warn.
Two critical Covid-infected patients who were placed on ventilator support at Bir Hospital succumbed to the disease on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. The number of seriously ailing patients seeking care at the hospital grew to 17 from two in a week.
“Some patients have been admitted to the intensive care unit and some in the high-dependency unit,” Dr Ashesh Dhungana, a pulmonologist at the hospital, told the Post. “Only the seriously ailing patients have been seeking care at the hospital.”
Along with the rise in serious cases of Covid-19, the number of patients suffering from respiratory illness has risen significantly of late. Doctors blame the worsening air quality as the main culprit.
They say the worsening air quality has exacerbated respiratory infections, including the severity of the coronavirus infection.
“We do not have the technology to examine whether pollution is responsible for the growing number of respiratory illnesses, but the fact is young people in their mid-30 are also getting severe pneumonia,” said Dhungana. “The younger population, generally, does not suffer from pneumonia. But the cases of bronchial asthma, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses in them have been growing in our hospital. Some have been hospitalised too.”
Nepal’s air quality has been deteriorating. Kathmandu ranked among the most polluted places in the world on Saturday, with smoke and haze covering the Valley. The Valley’s air quality reached very unhealthy levels on Saturday at 9:45 am, with the Air Quality Index (AQI) reading 244.
Very unhealthy air quality means health warnings of emergency conditions and the entire population is more likely to be affected whereas hazardous levels call for a health alert and everyone may experience serious health effects.
The Meteorological Forecasting Division of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology said massive forest fires throughout the country are responsible for the smoke and haze in the country. Visibility in the Valley declined to 1,500 metres on Saturday morning, affecting several domestic flights and in the afternoon, the Valley’s visibility had increased to four kilometres.
“Problems of smoke and haze are not just limited to the Kathmandu valley. They are seen in many places throughout the country,” said Rojan Lamichhane, a meteorologist at the division. “Conditions of smoke and haze will continue as there is no visible system that can cause rainfall which would wash out the pollution.”
Dry conditions and higher temperatures increase the likelihood of fire incidents, according to environmentalists.
Air pollution is known to cause various respiratory illnesses and since coronavirus primarily affects the lungs, health experts warn that worsening air quality could lead to an increase in hospitalisation cases and even deaths among the people infected with coronavirus.
Doctors say that even if there were no coronavirus infections, poor air quality could cause short and long-term effects on public health. Bad air quality can cause pneumonia, bronchitis, conjunctivitis, skin allergy, stroke and heart problems, in the short term and ulcers and cancer of the lungs and intestine, kidney disease and heart problems, in the long run.
“If patients suffering from a respiratory illness get infected with coronavirus, the chances of infection severity and death increase,” said Dr Niraj Bam, an associate professor at the Institute of Medicine. “We should be more cautious about our own health and the health of elderly people in our homes and take maximum precaution.”
Studies show that poor air quality may be one of the factors for high infection rate of Covid-19.
A study, published in Cardiovascular Research, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology, estimated that about 15 percent of deaths worldwide from Covid-19 could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.
Another new study by researchers at Harvard University has shown that people infected with Covid-19 who live in areas with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from the illness than those who live in less polluted regions.
“The number of patients suffering from common cold and fever visiting the hospital has been rising significantly of late and what concerns us more is that a growing number of them has been testing positive for coronavirus,” said Bam. “We should not underestimate the risks, as the second wave of the pandemic derived by the Delta variant started in April and again the new cases of coronavirus have been surging and the air pollution levels have further deteriorated.”
More than 8,000 people died in Nepal during the second wave of the Covid pandemic.
Meanwhile, Nepal on Saturday recorded 64 new cases of Covid-19 infection. The 151 polymerase chain reaction tests carried out throughout the country showed 21 cases. The rest of the infections were confirmed through antigen testing.
So far, 12,022 people have succumbed to Covid-19 infection since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest official count of deaths maintained by the government.