Disease burden may increase drastically if COVID-19, air pollution get combined: AIIMS director

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New Delhi, Nov 10 (PTI) There is an urgent need to look for sustainable solutions and be more aggressive towards controlling air pollution, more so with the COVID-19 pandemic being around, as it can lead to a huge burden of diseases if both get combined, the AIIMS director said on Tuesday.

There is definitely an ongoing wave, especially in many parts of India, and air pollution is making it worse, AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria said at ASSOCHAM webinar on 'COVID-19-Coming of the Second Wave: Myth or Reality', according to a statement by the industry body.

'So, we need to act on multiple fronts to get hold as far as this pandemic is concerned,' he said. He said that Delhi is facing a double whammy of air pollution and COVID-19 as a virus can survive for a long time in pollution, which can cause more severe diseases.

'There is no doubt that we are having a second wave but possibly multiple waves in different parts of the country as the number of cases increase.

'In our hospital we had created a facility with almost 1,500 beds for COVID patients, we had during June-July almost 900 patients admitted at a given point in time, it came down to about 200, but now again it is rising, and we have more than 500 COVID patients,' Guleria was quoted as saying in the statement.

The All India Institute Of Medical Sciences director also said that since the 'unlock' has happened, the load on the hospital has increased significantly as now it is facing a huge burden as the number of COVID-19 cases is increasing which is causing a huge strain on healthcare facilities.

He outlined three major reasons for the rise in COVID-19 cases - COVID fatigue and lack of COVID appropriate behaviour as people are not following social distancing or wearing masks; respiratory viruses peak during winter months and Delhi's poor air quality leading to rise in air pollution.

Guleria said there is data suggesting that mortality during air pollution continues to be high, the statement said.

'Every year in our hospital, we have done a study where we have followed all our admissions in an emergency for two years and what we found was that whenever the air quality index worsened there was an increase in admissions both in children and adults for respiratory diseases in the next 5-6 days.

'This is being shown for the last 2-3 years, now with air pollution and COVID-19 this is going to become a huge burden,' he was quoted as saying in the statement.

Gulera also said that during this time of year there is an increase in allergic disorders like sneezing, running nose and a large number of cases of flu, therefore it becomes challenging in differentiating between upper respiratory manifestations. 'So, I think all individuals who have an influenza-like illness like fever, sore throat, headache, body ache, cough should at least get themselves tested for COVID-19,' he said. PTI PLB KJ