Andean cities and other high altitude areas show lower severe Covid-19 infection rates

Jun 8, 2020 | 12 comments

Cuenca internist Marlon Palacios says one of the reasons that Cuenca and other Andean cities have experienced relatively mild outbreaks of the Covid-19 virus, is because of altitude. Although relatively little research has been conducted on the subject, the Monte Sinai Hospital physician says the evidence is “overwhelming.”

Dr. Marlon Palacios

“If you compare the severe outbreaks around the world, you find none of them occurred at elevations above 2,000 meters,” Palacios says. “On a per capital basis, La Paz [Bolivia], Cuzco [Peru], Cuenca and Quito have had low rates of severe infections. All the worst outcomes, in Guayaquil, New York, Madrid, and Lombardy [Italy], are in cities below 600 or 700 meters.”

He adds: “You find the same low number of serious cases in high-altitude communities in the European Alps and in Tibet.”

In a radio interview on Voz del Tomebama, Palacios said he believes the high-altitude areas are protected by two factors: high levels of ultraviolet light at thin atmosphere. “The UV light acts as a sanitizer and kills the coronavirus at a higher rate,” he says. “Even with the cloudy conditions that we often have in Ecuador, the UV is much more intense than it is at lower elevations. In addition, the thin air does not sustain respiratory particles containing the virus for as long and particles containing the virus fall to the ground more quickly.”

Palacios cites a study published the journal Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology to support his claims. “They came to many of the same conclusions that I did after studying several hundred cases.”

Comparing Covid cases in Bolivia, researchers for the journal article found that infection rates in high altitude regions were at least three times lower than in the eastern lowlands  and, in some cases, as much as six times less.”

Although the research is preliminary, Palacios believes the results will be borne out in future, more extensive studies. “The respiratory journal study and the anecdotal evidence from many areas of the world supports this position and it is my belief that this knowledge could help guide the response to future viral outbreaks.”

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