New study shows environmental and social factors contribute to higher rates of pneumonia in children
New study by researchers at the LSU Superfund research program shows that children exposed to some type of environmental air pollution are more likely to contract community acquired pneumonia, or CAP, and to be hospitalized for longer periods. Social factors, including race and socioeconomic status, have also been found to be associated with living in areas at high risk for CAP.
“This research contributes to the body of evidence linking poor respiratory health to exposure to environmental air pollution, particularly particles derived from combustion,” said study co-author Stephania Cormier, who heads the LSU Superfund research program.
Research by scientists at the LSU Superfund research program has shown similar trends for other respiratory illnesses, including asthma, and recent data suggests implications for COVID-19.
Using data from a Centers for Disease Control surveillance study of pediatric pneumonia and geographic information systems, investigators identified high- and low-risk areas for CAP in the Memphis metropolitan area, Tennessee. They collected information including the cause of childhood pneumonia such as bacterial or viral infection, public or private health insurance, age, race, and exposure to particulate pollution. less than 2.5 microns in diameter or PM2.5. These tiny particles in the air are released from industrial combustion, car exhaust fumes and forest fires. PM2.5 is one of six air pollutants regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, and is linked to higher rates of respiratory tract infections and a plethora of other health problems, including cardiovascular illnesses.
When analyzed independently, race, insurance type, and exposure to PM2.5 were all identified as significant risk factors associated with living in areas with higher than expected CAP. However, race was the most important factor associated with living in a high risk area. In the Memphis metro area, Hispanic and non-Hispanic black children were hospitalized with pneumonia at significantly higher rates than white children.
Another important finding from this study is that the health risk associated with elevated PM2.5 occurred at levels below the current regulatory maximum standard set by the EPA.
“The fact that we have seen an increased risk of pediatric pneumonia at levels of PM2.5 below what is currently allowed by the EPA is a concern and signals the need for continued review and policy adjustment. based on evidence of health effects and exposure or risk information like this, ”Cormier said.
The World Health Organization recently lowered the maximum standards for environmental particles worldwide below the current EPA maximum level for the United States.
This policy change and new research is particularly important in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which is caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2.
“COVID-19 also causes pneumonia, and our research suggests that PM2.5 may contribute to higher infection rates and increased disease in those who become ill,” Cormier said.
A unique aspect of this study is that the researchers estimated the concentrations of PM2.5 using satellite data.
“Through incredible technological advancements, we have access to high-resolution satellite data that accurately captures information on environmental pollution anywhere in the world. We were able to use this data to focus on specific neighborhoods that have higher than average hospitalization rates for pediatric pneumonia to find out why, ”said Tonny J. Oyana, senior author and professor in the Department of Medicine University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Director of the College of Computing and Information Sciences at Makerere University, Uganda.
This study was published in the scientific journal Experimental Biology & Medicine and was selected as a flagship article by the journal last month.