High Altitude May Protect Against Coronavirus

Researchers hypothesize that populations living at high altitudes might be benefiting from a combination of an ability to cope with hypoxia (low levels of oxygen in the blood) and a natural environment hostile to the virus. These environmental conditions include dry air (and wind), high levels of UV (ultraviolet) radiation, and low barometric pressure, which is speculated to possibly reduce the virus’s ability to linger in the air.

In one peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, researchers found that populations living above 3,000 meters (around 10,000 feet) reported significantly lower levels of confirmed covid-19 cases. The researchers 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.

Researchers emphasize that it takes approximately 3 months to acquire the physiologic adaptations to living in high altitudes, which are being partially attributed to these lower infection rates. As a physician, these observational findings raise the question that there may be related therapies that might be employable in Covid-19. Hyperbaric Oxygen Chambers might be an effective intervention for critically ill Covid-19 patients. There is also a medication traditionally used for altitude sickness that may be employable in some fashion, called Diamox (acetazolamide). This is with the caveat that properly conducted trials (experimentation) with any therapy should not be taken lightly, especially in the setting of treating severely ill Covid-19 patients. I have not read about either of these concepts elsewhere, but I assume that these therapies have not been employed, and given that hyperbaric chambers are not generally located in hospitals and are limited by so few units, I would imagine that this would be a highly impractical intervention for patients in an intensive care unit (ICU).

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Justin Groode MD | Patient Advocate Alliance LLC

*[These ideas are solely those of Patient Advocate Alliance LLC and are not intended as medical advice or recommendations.]