Nicotine patches should be tested on coronavirus patients and health workers treating people after the first studies suggested that smokers were less likely to get the disease.
According to French researchers, the first data indicate that smokers represent a disproportionate number of people hospitalized COVID-19.
Study from Pitie-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris suggests that a substance in tobacco, supposed to be nicotine, prevented smokers from contracting coronavirus.
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Study officials said they don’t advise people to start smoking, scientists say it kills half of those who do it regularly – claiming around 75,000 deaths each year in France.
But they say they want to know more after interviewing 480 patients who test positive for the virus. A total of 350 patients had to be treated in hospital while the rest with less severe symptoms were discharged.
Of those needing hospital treatment, whose median age was 65, only 4.4% were regular smokers. Only 5.3% of those authorized to return home – who had a median age of 44 – 5.3% reported having smoked.
The researchers said that according to the latest official statistics in France, smokers represent 30% of 45-54 year olds, 8.8% of women and 11.3% of men 65-75 years old.
The authors write: “Our cross-sectional study strongly suggests that daily smokers have a much lower probability of developing symptomatic or severe SARS-CoV-2 infection compared to the general population.
“The effect is significant, it divides the risk by five for ambulatory patients and by four for hospitalized patients. It is rarely seen in medicine. “
Prominent neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, who reviewed the work, hypothesized that nicotine could protect against the virus by preventing it from reaching body cells.
It is also believed that nicotine could prevent the immune system from overdriving due to the infection, as has been found in some of the most affected cases.
Epidemiologist Florence Tubach, co-author of the study, cautioned: “Based on these results, however robust they may be, we should not conclude that there is a protective effect from tobacco smoke , which contains many toxic agents.
“Only nicotine or other nicotinic receptor modulators could have a protective effect and I maintain the conditional because our work remains observational. “
The next phase of research will continue after the French Ministry of Health approves the trials.
Figures from Paris hospitals show that of the approximately 11,000 patients treated in the hospital for COVID-19, 8.5% were smokers.
Official data indicates that 25.4% of French people smoke.
It follows a study of more than 1,000 people infected in China, which found that the proportion of smokers was 12.6% – compared to 28% in the country’s adult population.