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A study by the Paris hospital network suggests that regular smokers may be safer from COVID-19 infection than the general public, according to reports from Radio France Internationale and the Guardian.
Researchers from several institutions have discovered that of the approximately 11,000 patients hospitalized in city public hospitals for coronavirus in early April, only 8.5% were smokers, compared with 25.4% of the general public.
But the study’s authors warned that the results should not be considered a carte blanche to start smoking cigarettes. The dangers of this habit are well documented: it causes heart disease and lung cancer, and kills half of those who take it.
In addition, smokers who caught COVID-19 often developed more severe symptoms due to the cumulative damage caused by tobacco smoke to the lungs.
French researchers plan to test nicotine patches on coronavirus patients and front-line health workers, according to the Guardian. Clinical trials are planned but must be approved beforehand by the French health authorities.
The study looked more closely at 482 patients at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital who tested positive for the coronavirus. Among them, 343 were hospitalized, the rest, whose symptoms were less severe, were sent home.
The smoking rate for hospitalized patients, whose median age was 65 years, was 4.4%. Of those treated at home, whose median age was 44, 5.3% smoked.
These numbers may not be so surprising in the United States, where only 14% of adults smoke. In France, however, around 40% of 44-53 year olds and between 8.8% and 11.3% of 65-75 year olds are smokers, according to the French health authority Santé Publique France.
“Our cross-sectional study strongly suggests that those who smoke daily are much less likely to develop symptomatic or severe infection with Sars-CoV-2 compared to the general population,” wrote the authors of the Pitié-Salpêtrière report.
“The effect is significant. He divides the risk by five for ambulatory patients and by four for those admitted to hospital. We rarely see this in medicine. “
The Guardian reported that French neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, who reviewed the study, suggested that nicotine could prevent the virus from reaching body cells, preventing its spread. Nicotine can also prevent the immune system from overreacting during the “cytokine storm” effect seen in the most severe cases of COVID-19 infection.
But the head of the French National Health Agency, Jérôme Salomon, warned that the nicotine link is just an unproven hypothesis at this point.
The results confirmed those of a Chinese COVID-19 study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine. The report found that 12.6% of the 1,099 COVID-19 patients were smokers, while the smoking rate in China is around 28%.
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Mike Moffitt is an SFGATE digital reporter. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Mike_at_SFGate