What causes household air pollution?

Three billion people worldwide are exposed to household air pollution (HAP) from the fuels they burn in order to light and heat their homes, and to cook.

When charcoal, wood and food waste are burned they generate high concentrations of smoke particles. Exposure to this air pollution is associated with increased risk of pneumonia, particularly in low- and middle-income areas and countries where bacterial pneumonia is the biggest cause of infant mortality.

Household air pollution studied

A research team in Malawi studied healthy volunteers who had frequent exposure to HAP. Using a telescope test, the team took samples of the immune cells from the volunteers’ lung airways. These “alveolar macrophages” are a major defence against infection and clean up the lung airways by ingesting inhaled particles and bacteria. Macrophage cells produce toxins which kill the bacteria they’ve taken up, in a process called oxidative burst.

The study measured the smoke particle content of the macrophage cells. More smoke exposure was associated with a weaker killing response. The authors conclude that even in healthy people, HAP can cause weaknesses in the immune function of the lung, which can lead to a higher rate of pneumonia.

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World’s third most important risk factor for ill-health

“Household air pollution is the third most important risk factor for ill-health worldwide. You don’t have to have lung disease to suffer the ill effects of these smoke particles. Our cell-based research has shown that HAP exposure goes hand in hand with a reduced immune capacity to deal with lung infection. Vulnerable groups such as women and children in low-income countries are most likely to be affected,” explains Dr Jamie Rylance is a respiratory specialist at Aintree University Hospital and the joint first author on the paper.

Source: Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine via Sciencedaily.com

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