Environmental Impacts on COVID-19: Mechanisms of Increased Susceptibility

Ann Glob Health. 2022 Oct 21;88(1):94. doi: 10.5334/aogh.3907. eCollection 2022.


Background: Since 2019, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has resulted in >554M cases and >6.3M deaths worldwide. The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, has resulted in a broad range of clinical symptoms differing in severity. Initially, the elderly were identified as particularly susceptible to severe COVID-19, with children experiencing less severe disease. However, as new variants arise, the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 infection is changing, and the disease severity in children is increasing. While environmental impacts on COVID-19 have been described, the underlying mechanisms are poorly described.

Objective: The Pacific Basin Consortium for Environment and Health (PBC) held meeting on September 16, 2021, to explore environmental impacts on infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

Methods: The PBC is an international group of environmental scientists and those interested in health outcomes. The PBC met to present preliminary data and discuss the role of exposures to airborne pollutants in enhancing susceptibility to and severity of respiratory tract viral infections, including COVID-19.

Findings: Analysis of the literature and data presented identified age as an important factor in vulnerability to air pollution and enhanced COVID-19 susceptibility and severity. Mechanisms involved in increasing severity of COVID-19 were discussed, and gaps in knowledge were identified.

Conclusions: Exposure to particulate matter (PM) pollution enhanced morbidity and mortality to COVID-19 in a pediatric population associated with induction of oxidative stress. In addition, free radicals present on PM can induce rapid changes in the viral genome that can lead to vaccine escape, altered host susceptibility, and viral pathogenicity. Nutritional antioxidant supplements have been shown to reduce the severity of viral infections, inhibit the inflammatory cytokine storm, and boost host immunity and may be of benefit in combating COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID 19; age; air pollution; respiratory viral infections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Air Pollution* / adverse effects
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Virus Diseases*


  • Particulate Matter