NEW YORK (WCBS 880) – Early research suggests that higher pollen counts could increase the COVID-19 infection rate in an area.
A study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at COVID rates and pollen counts in 31 countries.
They found that in places with less pollen, there were fewer COVID infections. According to the study, pollen could increase the COVID infection rate by 10% to 30%.
Researchers also believe people with severe seasonal allergies may be at an increased risk of contracting COVID.
Rutgers University allergy specialist Dr. Leonard Bielory, a study co-author, said it’s just a theory at this point that has to be researched more.
“Perhaps an underlying inflammatory reaction of the nasal mucosa, as well as potentially the eyes, and something we call rhinoconjunctivitis— inflammation of the nose and eyes that’s seen in many patients with allergies—that maybe they would increase or cause a predisposition to have viral infections,” Bielory said.
Bielory suspects allergic inflammation might increase the cell receptors to which the coronavirus latches on.
“Whether allergic inflammation will increase the receptor for which the virus binds to the human cells,” Bielory said. “That’s the angiotensin-converting enzyme, otherwise known as the ACE receptor. That’s the landing pad for the virus on the human cells. And the spike protein that everybody’s talking about on the coronavirus, the COVID-19, is the ‘attachment.’ It links to the ACE2 receptor. So if we have increased ACE2 receptors due to allergic inflammation, it would support the findings that we have seen that there is a potential link.”
The study recommends that high-risk people should wear filter masks during the spring, when pollen concentrations are especially high.