News & views

Altitude and Covid

Bolivia altiplano laguna blanca bird reflected in water20180829 76980 18q426v

Over the past few weeks, we have been keeping in close contact with our partners on the ground over in Latin America. It has been noticeable that there are observable differences in the number of cases in lowland versus highland areas. In Peru the low altitude cities of Lima & Iquitos are far more impacted than high altitude Cusco. In Chile the coastal city of Iquique has had far more cases than San Pedro de Atacama in the highlands. Ecuador's largest city, Guayaquil, has suffered terribly compared to the Andean capital Quito.

It would appear that there are no large scale studies yet but there is a preliminary piece on the reasonably reputable Science Direct site, which looks at the possible impact of high altitude on Covid. Seems to be that various factors could be at play:

1) High levels of UV which has some sanitising properties (emphasis added, just in case POTUS is reading);

2) Significant daytime/nightime temperature fluctuations;

3) Lower air particle density making transmission harder.

All of which might contribute to a materially reduced survival capacity for the virus at high altitude, on surfaces at least.

For residents of high altitude environments there are additional physiological differences. I would tend to think that stronger lungs would be about the mark but according to this particular study, it is better expressed: thus a putative decrease of ACE2 expression in pulmonary endothelia in high-altitude inhabitant

Which is a timely reminder that I'm no virologist and my ability to identify good science from bad is limited to helping my teenager with his science homeschooling. But this does come from observation about infection rates locally in some of our most popular Latin American destinations so might be of interest to you.

The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

Share your story with us