Can volcanic trace elements facilitate Covid-19 diffusion? A hypothesis stemming from the Mount Etna area, Sicily(Article)

Loredana Raciti, Rocco Salvatore Calabrò

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In December 2019, severe cases of pneumonia of unknown aetiology were reported in Wuhan city, in China. Lately, the pneumonia was related to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), and the diseases was termed coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19). At the end of January 2020, the infection spread all over Italy, but with high infection rates and mortality in the northern part, especially in Lombardy, the most industrialized and polluted region of the country. It is noteworthy that a strong association between severe viral respiratory disease and air pollution has been described. Air pollutant could be solid particles, liquid droplets, or gases and can be of natural origin (such as ash from a volcanic eruption) or released from motor vehicle depletes (carbon monoxide gas) or factories (sulfur dioxide). Volcanic eruptions release large amounts of sulphuric acid, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrochloric acid into the atmosphere. Pulmunary diseases spreadby means of small droplets in thebreath, also called aerosols, and air pollution may facilitate the outside survival of viruses. We suppose that ash and gases emitted from the Mount Etna contributed to air pollution, potentially favouring the major contagion of COVID-19 in the eastern flank of the mountain, as in Catania city. In fact, ash and gases (with regard to radon) are usually particularly intense in winter, with a reduction of emission of specific metals with warmer weather. This is the first paper that elaborates the hypothesis of a potential role of volcanic gases and heavy metals-related air pollution, combined to specific climatic conditions and regional topography, in favouring severe COVID-19 diffusion in Sicily. Clinical and epidemiological studies are needed to support the hypothesis and plan the due prevention and awareness-raising campaigns.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalMedical Hypotheses
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2020


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