After a controversial study at a major Paris hospital suggested smokers may be less at risk of contracting the coronavirus, French researchers are planning to test nicotine patches on patients and frontline health workers, reports The Guardian.
According to early data, those who smoke make up a disproportionately small number of people in hospital with COVID-19. For this reason, the researchers are probing whether the nicotine in cigarettes plays a part in stopping smokers from catching the illness while insisting they are not encouraging people to take up smoking, which has severe health risks.
Clinical trials of nicotine patches are awaiting approval from the country’s health authorities, and if they are deemed successful, they could help protect patients and healthcare workers.
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Researchers questioned 480 patients
Researchers from Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital questioned 480 patients who had tested positive for the virus. 350 of those patients were hospitalized and the rest with less serious symptoms were sent home to self-quarantine.
The data shows that of those admitted to the hospital, 4.4% were regular smokers. This group’s median age was 65.
Of those who were sent home, 5.3% smoked, with a median age of 44.
The researchers saw that the number of smokers among the patients was much lower than that in the general French population, the study reports.
Smokers might be less likely to develop a severe infection
The researchers wrote, “Our cross-sectional study strongly suggests that those who smoke every day are much less likely to develop a symptomatic or severe infection with Sars-CoV-2 compared with the general population. The effect is significant. It divides the risk by five for ambulatory patients and by four for those admitted to hospital. We rarely see this in medicine.”
While it is not for certain, the researchers think that nicotine could stop the virus from infecting cells or that nicotine might be preventing the immune system from overreacting to the virus.
However, the researchers are not encouraging people to take up smoking. The study also reports that smoking carries potentially fatal health risks and kills 50% of those who take it up. Even if nicotine protects people from the virus, smokers often develop more serious symptoms due to the toxic effect of tobacco smoke.
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