Researchers have found a link between exposure to diesel exhaust particles (DEP) and the bacterial forms of pneumonia and meningitis, two of the leading causes of disease deaths in children and the elderly worldwide.
Researchers at the University of Liverpool, Queens Mary University and Trinity College Dublin conducted a collaborative study in order to examine the role of DEP and the development of the pneumococcal diseases.
They used a combination of mouse models and lab-based analysis in both mouse and human cells in order to provide insight into the link between diesel pollution and the disease.
They found that following exposure to diesel exhaust, the airway macrophages, which are key immune cells for controlling bacterial infections and removing debris from the body, became congested with DEPs.
This reduced the bodies ability to kill the pneumococcus and therefore allowed the bacteria to survive more easily, consequently causing significant inflammation which eventually led to disease.
Professor Aras Kadioglu from the University of Liverpool, said: ‘We know that exposure to air pollution is harmful, responsible for millions of deaths every year, of which a significant proportion is due to pneumonia.
‘What we did not know, however, was how pollution, such as diesel exhaust particles, actually causes airway disease.
‘Our study highlights an urgent need to tackle airway pollution if we are to reduce life-threatening respiratory diseases such as pneumonia.’
Dr Rebecca Shears, lead author of the study said: ‘Our data provides further insight to support previous observations of increasing pneumonia hospital admissions in countries such as China, where airborne pollution levels are high.
‘The reduced ability of DEP exposed airways to control infection appears to be key in the increased number of pneumococcal disease. This study adds further impetus to reduce global pollution levels.’