Severity of COVID-19 at elevated exposure to perfluorinated alkylates

By Philippe Grandjean, Clara Amalie Gade Timmermann, Marie Kruse, Flemming Nielsen, Pernille Just Vinholt, Lasse Boding, Carsten Heilmann, and Kaare Molbak
November 9, 2020
DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.22.20217562

Background The course of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) seems to be aggravated by air pollution, and some industrial chemicals, such as the perfluorinated alkylate substances (PFASs), are immunotoxic and may contribute as well. Methods From Danish biobanks, we obtained plasma samples from 323 subjects aged 30-70 years with known SARS-CoV-2 infection. The PFAS concentrations measured at the background exposures included five PFASs known to be immunotoxic. Register data was obtained to classify disease status, other health information, and demographic variables. We used ordinal and ordered logistic regression analyses to determine associations between PFAS concentrations and disease outcome. Results Plasma-PFAS concentrations were higher in males, in subjects with Western European background, and tended to increase with age, but were not associated with the presence of chronic disease. Of the study population, 108 (33%) had not been hospitalized, and of those hospitalized, 53 (16%) had been in intensive care or were deceased. Among the five PFASs considered, perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA) showed an odds ratio (OR) of 2.19 (95% confidence interval, CI, 1.39-3.46) for increasing severities of the disease, although the OR decreased to 1.77 (95% CI, 1.09, 2.87) after adjustment for age, sex, sampling site and interval between blood sampling and diagnosis. Conclusions Measures of individual exposures to immunotoxic PFASs included PFBA that accumulates in the lungs. Elevated plasma-PFBA concentrations were associated with an increased risk of more severe course of CIVID-19. Given the low background exposure levels in this study, the role of PFAS exposure in COVID-19 needs to be ascertained in populations with elevated exposures.

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