Smokers are more likely to develop serious COVID-19 complications: study


A new study investigating the correlations between smoking, COVID-19 and a type of lung disease called COPD has found that current smokers are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than non-smokers.

The study, published Monday in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, is the first to specifically investigate the risks posed to COVID-19 patients with a history of COPD.

COPD is synonymous with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is “a common and persistent lung dysfunction associated with limited air flow,” according to a study press release.

The disease is complicated and is mainly caused by “long-term exposure to harmful gases and particles,” the study said. There were 251 million cases of COPD in 2016, and it is exacerbated by many things, including smoking.

“Viral infection remains the main trigger” for COPD, the study found.

This new study wanted to investigate how a history of COPD – or a history of smoking – correlated with COVID-19 patients.

To cross-check these factors, the new study collected as many previous studies evaluating COVID-19 and the presence of COPD in COVID-19 patients as possible, thereby reducing 123 potential articles to 15.

The 15 studies involved 2,473 patients confirmed with COVID-19. Of this sample, 58 patients, or 2.3%, also had COPD and 221 patients, or 9%, were also smokers.

Due to the small number of studies that fit the bill and the diversity of locations, parameters and designs of these studies, the researchers acknowledged that their results were somewhat limited.

What they found out was that “current smokers were 1.45 times more likely to have serious complications compared to former smokers and never smokers,” the press release said.

The overall crude death rate of the 2,473 cases examined in the 15 studies was 7.4%.

However, the new study found that the mortality rate for current smokers was 38.5%.

The data also showed that seriously ill COVID-19 patients who had COPD had a 63% risk of developing serious illness and a 60% risk of dying from COVID-19. Critically ill patients without COPD only developed serious illness about 33% of the time.

“Despite the small number of patients who have been analyzed, this increases concerns about the prognosis of this vulnerable population,” the study found.

The percentage of smokers in the study sample (9%) is lower than the “reported prevalence of smoking in China” – the country where most of the studies come from – which is around 25%, but the study found found that smokers had a worse outcome than non-smokers.

The study added that previous research on other respiratory illnesses had “shown that inhaled tobacco smoke increases the rate of transmission and the severity of viral respiratory tract infections.”

Although the researchers acknowledged in their conclusions that the study had limitations – like most of the data from China, and the fact that not all articles on the 15 included examined both COPD and smoking – they said their results had important implications for healthcare workers.

One of their recommendations was that officials use telemedicine to help people with COPD become aware of the risks and receive the best care possible.

“We strongly advocate public awareness campaigns focusing on ways to achieve smoking cessation among smokers, and it is possible that the rates may improve [the novel coronavirus]”, Also indicates the study.

The issue of smoking and COVID-19 is one that researchers have been studying for months.

Previous studies have largely supported the notion that smokers are at risk of developing serious complications if they get COVID-19. Although some experts have speculated that nicotine itself could prevent the new coronavirus from attaching to human cells, citing lower percentages of COVID-19 among current smokers, this theory has not been proven.

The World Health Organization reiterated in a statement on Monday that “smoking is a known risk factor for many respiratory infections and increases the severity of respiratory illnesses.”


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