Nicotine could block coronavirus from reaching human cells, say researchers testing patches on patients

There is conflicting evidence on smoking and COVID-19 risk. While an FDA report said smokers are more likely to catch the disease, studies show the cases among smokers are marginally less in number

                            Nicotine could block coronavirus from reaching human cells, say researchers testing patches on patients
(Getty Images)

French experts are hoping to test nicotine patches on coronavirus patients and frontline workers, amid conflicting evidence on the effects of smoking and COVID-19 risk.

Conducting a survey of 480 coronavirus patients in a hospital, experts found fewer smokers caught the disease. More than 4.4% of those hospitalized were regular smokers.  The team is awaiting approval from the country's health agencies, according to The Guardian.

However, the team said it was not encouraging tobacco use, which kills nearly 8 million people globally every year.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths each year in the US.

The first clue linking smoking and lower COVID-19 risk emerged in China.  In one study, scientists found only 12.6% of over 1,000 patients were smokers. 

Similarly, French hospitals are witnessing a similar trend. Of the 11,000 patients admitted to hospital with the disease, only 8.5% were smokers. About 25.4% of the population in the country are smokers.

 "Our cross-sectional study strongly suggests that those who smoke every day are much less likely to develop a symptomatic severe infection with Sars-CoV-2 compared with the general population," the authors wrote in their report.

Nicotine might act either by blocking the virus from reaching human cells or prevent an immune system overreaction, according to a French neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, who reviewed the study. 

Experts believe some patients struggling with severe COVID-19 might die from an immune system overreaction rather than the virus itself.

According to Dr Randy Q Cron, from the University of Alabama in Birmingham, COVID-19 patients with overactive defenses tend to suffer more than the other COVID-19 patients. These patients have a fever. They lose their ability to breathe and need oxygen support, Dr Cron earlier told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). 

Conducting a survey of 480 coronavirus patients in a hospital, the experts found fewer smokers caught the disease (Getty Images)

Smokers could be more vulnerable

Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration said that cigarettes increase the chances of catching the disease. "People who smoke cigarettes may be at increased risk of infection with the virus that causes COVID-19, and may have worse outcomes from COVID-19," the agency said in an emailed response to a question from Bloomberg News.

 Because it attacks the lungs, the coronavirus could be worse in those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or vape, Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, explained in a blog post.

Other experts say respiratory diseases — like COVID-19 — are often much worse in smokers, explaining why more men might be dying from the disease.

"Over half of Chinese men smoke while only about 1% of Chinese women do. Smoking is also more common in China in older people than younger people," Dr Brian Labus from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, earlier told MEAWW.

What is more, one study analyzed previous studies on smoking and COVID-19 disease and found smokers were at a higher risk. "Smokers have higher odds of COVID-19 progression than never smokers," a meta-analysis study read.

For more information and statistics on the coronavirus pandemic, click on the Newsbreak tracker here