Scientific article
Open access

Peaks of Fine Particulate Matter May Modulate the Spreading and Virulence of COVID-19

Published inEarth Systems and Environment, vol. 4, p. 789-796
Publication date2020

A probe of a patient, seeking help in an emergency ward of a French hospital in late December 2019 because of Influenza like symptoms, was retrospectively tested positive to COVID-19. Despite the early appearance of the virus in Europe, the prevalence and virulence appeared to be low for several weeks, before the spread and severity of symptoms increased exponentially, yet with marked spatial and temporal differences. Here, we compare the possible linkages between peaks of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and the sudden, explosive increase of hospitalizations and mortality rates in the Swiss Canton of Ticino, and the Greater Paris and London regions. We argue that these peaks of fine particulate matter are primarily occurring during thermal inversion of the boundary layer of the atmosphere. We also discuss the influence of Saharan dust intrusions on the COVID-19 outbreak observed in early 2020 on the Canary Islands. We deem it both reasonable and plausible that high PM2.5 concentrations—favored by air temperature inversions or Saharan dust intrusions—are not only modulating but even more so boosting severe outbreaks of COVID-19. Moreover, desert dust events—besides enhancing PM2.5 concentrations— can be a vector for fungal diseases, thereby exacerbating COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. We conclude that the overburdening of the health services and hospitals as well as the high over-mortality observed in various regions of Europe in spring 2020 may be linked to peaks of PM2.5 and likely particular weather situations that have favored the spread and enhanced the virulence of the virus. In the future, we recommended to monitor not only the prevalence of the virus, but also to consider the occurrence of weather situations that can lead to sudden, very explosive COVID-19 outbreaks.

  • COVID-19
  • Thermal inversion
  • PM2.5 air pollution
  • Desert dust intrusions
Citation (ISO format)
ROHRER, Mario Bruno, FLAHAULT, Antoine, STOFFEL, Markus. Peaks of Fine Particulate Matter May Modulate the Spreading and Virulence of COVID-19. In: Earth Systems and Environment, 2020, vol. 4, p. 789–796. doi: 10.1007/s41748-020-00184-4
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Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal2509-9426

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