Across the world, scientists are seeking drugs that attack the novel coronavirus. Then there are some researchers looking at developing antiviral surface coatings to prevent the spread of infections. There are various questions that are yet to be answered. Why do some people get so sick? Why do others don’t even show any symptoms and yet spread the virus? Exactly how deadly is this virus? For how long are we going to practice social distancing? So now there’s no denying that coronavirus has become too big of a problem and scientists, researchers, public health organisations may take a lot of time to understand the virus. And that’s why we have so many dedicated research studies.
Now, a recent study suggests that people living at high altitudes are less likely to experience the worst effects of coronavirus than those at sea level.
Researchers studying the epidemiological data from different countries at high altitude areas have found that people living at an altitude of 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) above sea level have reported a lesser number of COVID-19 infections.
According to a report in The Washington Post, researchers from Australia, Bolivia, Canada and Switzerland looking at numbers from Bolivia, Ecuador and Tibet found that Tibet’s infection rate was “drastically” lower than that of lowland China, three times lower in the Bolivian Andes than in the rest of the country and four times lower in the Ecuadoran Andes. The study was published in the journal Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology.
The research suggests that the infection rate in higher altitude areas is three-fold lower as compared to the areas closer to the sea level. “At sea-level, when people get coronavirus and their lungs get destroyed, it is as if they are climbing Mount Everest in just a couple of days, without oxygen,” said study co-author Gustavo Zubieta-Calleja, director of Bolivia’s High Altitude Pulmonary and Pathology Institute, in a report published in Financial Times.
The research further analyses the lesser number of cases in Tibet even though the area is in close proximity to Wuhan, the first epicentre of the novel coronavirus. Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, is located at an elevation of about 11,400 feet above sea level, or 3,500 metres above sea level.
The road distance between Lhasa and Wuhan is more than 2,000 miles and there could have been tourists travelling from Wuhan to Lhasa in trains and buses. But only 134 confirmed cases were confirmed from Tibet, Qinghai and part of Sichuan.
According to researchers, the lesser number of cases in these areas can be attributed to certain factors. People living in these areas are exposed to low oxygen, or ‘hypoxic’, conditions have become biologically accustomed through improved oxygen transport in the arteries. Dryness of air, windy nature of weather, and greater prevalence of ultraviolet rays than in lowland areas could also be some of the environmental factors helping people to fight off the virus.
In India too, the hilly areas like Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram have lower COVID-19 cases. However, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Union Territory of Ladakh have seen a spike in the number of cases and that’s because of migrant workers returning to their hometowns. The researchers are further analysing the data to come to a concrete conclusion but till then even those staying higher-altitudes need to take precautions.
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Because that’s the only way we can prevent catching the virus in the first place.