High Altitudes Drastically Impact The Coronavirus's Contagion And Death Rate

Though the novel coronavirus has quickly made its way across the globe, infecting over 6 million people and killing over 370,000, experts have noted there are certain places where it seems to have little effect: locations in high altitudes.

According to The Washington Post, infection rates and fatalities are well below average in communities located far above sea level, leading some residents to joke that the virus suffers from altitude sickness.

One case study is the city of Cusco, Peru, which boasts an altitude of over 11,000 feet. Cusco logged the first three COVID-19 deaths in the country. Though the three fatalities were tourists from Mexico, China, and Great Britain, who were suspected of being infected with the virus before their arrivals, many Peruvians worried that the one-time capital of the Incan empire would become a hotspot for the virus.

But the opposite appeared to be true. Between March 23 and April 3, when COVID-19 was ravaging the rest of the country, Cusco did not report another single death. In contrast, Peru's overall fatality rate was over 4,000.

The high altitudes do not just affect mortality. Infection rates in Cusco were also substantially less than the rest of the nation, with experts estimating that it was 80 percent lower.

Similar findings to Cusco have been noted in other high altitude locations as well, such as in the Andes and Tibet.

Unsplash | Giuseppe Mondì

Some researchers have theorized that residents in high altitude locations have bodies that are better adapted to handle the virus. One cited example was that communities at high altitudes are used to lower oxygen levels in the blood.

Clayton Cowl, a pulmonologist at the Mayo Clinic and a former president of the American College of Chest Physicians, offered another theory. Cowl claimed that living at high altitudes triggers the release of a protein called ACE2. The protein works against pulmonary shunting, one of the major health problems affecting those infected with the coronavirus.

Other scientists have suggested that the environmental factors of high altitudes, including dry mountain air and increased UV radiation, have also played a role in the low infection and fatality rates.

However, those hoping to vacation to high altitude places as a precaution might want to think twice. Doctors have warned that any physical benefits against COVID-19 will take months to develop. Worse, those infected with the virus would only make their symptoms worse at high altitudes.

That said, experts are encouraged to have yet another clue that can help them better understand the illness.

"We're still learning so much about this disease, and this does provide us with some good clues to try and understand its progression," concluded Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases expert at the University of California at San Francisco.

In other coronavirus news, doctors are hailing a new children's medication that could be a major breakthrough for serious cases. As was previously reported by The Inquisitr, patients who received the drug were almost 90 percent less likely to die in the stunning new findings.