Sunday, March 22, 2020

Throat symptoms: 'Flu' or air pollution?

On self-diagnosis in time of plague.

On 6 March 2020, I felt a slight tickle in my throat. I wasn't coughing, nor did I have any other symptoms of cold. It was barely identifiable as a "symptom" of anything whatsoever, not even a small cold. It happened to arise the same day that Colombia confirmed its first coronavirus diagnosis, so, regardless of whatever symptoms anyone might have had that day, it seemed highly unlikely that any given person in Colombia would also have that virus. So I didn't think it was worth mentioning to anyone as a complaint on any level about anything since it was so minor and barely noticeable.

Over two weeks later, the tickle in my throat was still present. It cannot possibly be coronavirus (symptoms of which peak around day 7 or 8, I hear). Suddenly, I realize what it is.

The air quality in Bogotá has been poor for several weeks. This is a known problem. According to scientific measurements, my neighborhood is affected to a medium degree compared against other neighborhoods in the city. Here are screenshots of data from AQICN.org (visit the website for real-time updates). I placed arrows in the screenshots to indicate the onset of my throat symptoms. The timing corresponds to an increase in pollution.

PM2.5


NO2


O3


Even several days of citywide self-enforced quarantine — which has almost entirely eliminated road traffic on the 8-lane road on which I live, for one example — has not improved the air quality much. The particulates are coming from smoke in other parts of Colombia and Venezuela.

It's nice to know it's not a virus. It's unpleasant that there is general air pollution.

Update, March 28, 2020: Here's a map of how European air pollution has reduced during quarantine for coronavirus. One scientist is quoted as giving this context: "the way our economies operate, absent pandemics, has massive hidden health costs, and it takes a pandemic to help see that."

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