Cigarette smoking is known to be conducive to a plethora of respiratory conditions, cancers and other diseases. To this effect, as COVID-19 started spreading, health authorities naturally assumed that smokers were at a higher risk of contracting the virus, and that if they did they would exhibit harsher symptoms than the majority. However, to the surprise of many, evidence to the contrary started emerging.
Data from around the world started indicating that smoking seems to be a protective factor against contracting the virus. And as leading Welsh doctors consider nicotine patches as a possible treatment for the coronavirus, consultant orthopedic surgeon at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, Jonathan Davies, who conducted research on the topic, said the “powerful” drug has the potential to block the virus from entering cells.
Published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), this study is now being reviewed by scientists in France who have also carried out a study aimed at determining the possible correlation between daily smoking, with the susceptibility of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 infection.
French study: less smokers amidst Covid patients than in the general population
The French research team found that nicotine acts as a barrier to the virus accessing the cell.
The research carried out in France indicated that the daily smokers rate amongst COVID-19 patients was at 5.3%, whilst amongst the French population, the daily smokers rate was at 25.4%. These findings led the researchers to conclude that daily smokers have a significantly lower probability of developing symptomatic or a severe SARS-CoV-2 infection, as compared to the general population.
“The idea behind the French research is that Covid-19 is understood to attach itself to the walls of cell receptors [known as ACE 2 receptors] in the upper airways. The virus then acts like a key to unlock the cell, allowing it to enter it and then use its infrastructure to multiply,” explained Davies.
“While nicotine is also able to attach itself to these receptors and act as a key to unlock the cell, it doesn’t actually enter. The French team postulate that instead, it acts as a barrier to the virus accessing the cell – as the key is already in the lock, so to speak.”
Smokers should still be aiming to quit
Meanwhile, added Davies, of course it is still always a good idea for smokers to quit. “A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that smokers may be less likely to catch coronavirus, but if they do there is plenty of evidence that they are likely to be more severely affected by it,” he said.
“I would like to emphasise that the overwhelming evidence is that smokers should quit immediately, but they would probably be best to do that using nicotine patches to gradually reduce the nicotine levels in their bodies and so avoid the effects of sudden withdrawal which may, theoretically, exacerbate the Covid infection if they caught it at that time.”
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