Exposure to fine particles responsible for lung infections in children

Air Pollution in children

A new US study reveals that even brief exposure to fine particles may be associated with the development of acute lower respiratory infections in young children.

Air pollution, and particularly that of fine particles, is not without consequences for the health of our children. Several studies had already shown it. Now, a wew work, led by Intermountain Healthcare, Brigham Young University, and the University of Utah, is also moving in this direction by highlighting the impact of air pollution on children’s lung infectious diseases.

Published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the journal of the American Thoracic Society, the study focuses on airborne fine particulate matter called PM 2.5. These polluting particles, representing about 3% of the diameter of a human hair, are constantly increasing in the air and are, according to the researchers, associated with the development of acute infections of the respiratory tract in children. : bronchiolitis and acute bronchitis and, in some cases exarcerbations of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), influenza and pneumonia.

“The most important result of this study is that the infectious processes of respiratory diseases can be influenced by particulate pollution at various levels,” says Dr. Benjamin Horne, Director of Cardiovascular and Genetic Epidemiology at the Intermountain Heart Institute Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Before reaching this conclusion, the researchers studied 146,397 patients treated for acute lower respiratory infection between 1999 and 2016 at Intermountain Healthcare facilities in the Wasatch Front area, Utah. They then discovered that these infections were associated with high levels of PM 2.5 particles in children and adults. Newborns and toddlers up to the age of 2 appear particularly vulnerable, accounting for 77% of patients.

The results highlighted by the researchers are all the more worrying as they concern the Wasatch Front mountainous region, where average levels of PM 2.5 are lower than those of large cities like Los Angeles or New York. However, the scientists say, the topography of this region of Utah may imply that air pollution remains trapped in high valleys, which may explain this high PM 2.5 concentration at levels considered as unhealthy (> 35 micrograms per m3, and sometimes close to 100 ug / m3).

But the Wasatch Front area is not the only one affected by this heavy air pollution. According to the researchers, nearly 60% of American children live in counties where PM 2.5 concentrations exceed air quality standards.

According to researchers, bronchiolitis, is the most common form of acute infection of the lower respiratory tract in children. It is characterized by inflammation of the bronchioli  the small respiratory ducts of the lungs, due to a virus that causes an obstruction of these bronchioli.

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“Overall, it took approximately 2 to 3 weeks for hospitalizations or clinic visits for acute lower respiratory infection to occur in this study after the rapid increase in PM2.5 was observed,” said Dr. Horne.

For researchers, there is an urgent need to take steps to prevent the development of these infections that can, in some cases, be life threatening. In an analysis of mortality rates in the study population, 17 children aged 0 to 2 years, 9 children aged 3 to 17 years and 81 adults died within 30 days of the diagnosis of the acute infection of the lower respiratory tract..

The first thing that needs to be done, Dr. Horne says, is to reduce exposure to air pollution. “A substantial rise in PM 2.5 can also serve as a reminder or warning to avoid areas and activities where others may share an infection with them.” It should also be remembered that one should not touch one’s face with dirty hands. Children should also wash their hands when reasonably possible and be prudent by adopting other known preventative behaviors to reduce the risk of infection. “

Emy Torres

Emy holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan and currently freelances part-time for The Talking Democrat.