BMC Public Health (Nov 2021)

Effect of altitude on COVID-19 mortality in Ecuador: an ecological study

  • Adriana Campos,
  • Bridget Scheveck,
  • Jeegan Parikh,
  • Santiago Hernandez-Bojorge,
  • Enrique Terán,
  • Ricardo Izurieta

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 21, no. 1
pp. 1 – 9


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Abstract Background The SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic has claimed nearly 900,000 lives worldwide and infected more than 27 million people. Researchers worldwide are studying ways to decrease SARS-CoV-2 transmission and COVID-19 related deaths. Several studies found altitude having a negative association with both COVID-19 incidence and deaths. Ecuadorian data was used to explore the relationship between altitude and COVID-19. Methods This is an ecological study examining province-level data. To explore a relationship between altitude and COVID-19, this study utilized publicly available COVID-19 data and population statistics. ANOVA, correlation statistics, and a multivariate linear model explored the relationship between different Ecuadorian altitudes against incidence, mortality, and case-fatality rates. Population statistics attributed to COVID-19 were included in the linear model to control for confounding factors. Results Statistically significant differences were observed in the regions of Amazónica, Sierra, Costa of Ecuador for incidence, mortality, and case fatality rates, suggesting an association between altitude and SARS-CoV-2 transmission and COVID-19 disease severity (p-value ≤0.05). In univariate analysis, altitude had a negative association to mortality rate with a 1-unit change in altitude resulting in the decrease of 0.006 units in mortality rate (p-value = 0.03). The multiple linear models adjusted for population statistics showed a statistically significant negative association of altitude with mortality rate (p-value = 0.01) with a 1-unit change in altitude resulting in the decrease in mortality rate by 0.015 units. Overall, the model helped in explaining 50% (R2 = 0.4962) of the variance in mortality rate. Conclusion Altitude may have an effect on COVID-19 mortality rates. However, based on our model and R2 value, the relationship between our variables of interest and COVID-19 mortality may be nonlinear. More research is needed to understand why altitude may have a protective effect against COVID-19 mortality and how this may be applicable in a clinical setting.