A new study in France calls for nicotine patches to be tested against the coronavirus.
According to the findings of a new study from the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, smokers seem to be at lower risk of infection with the coronavirus than non-smokers. The study calls for testing of nicotine patches on medical personnel and patients to gauge its protective qualities against the pandemic — currently, they are awaiting approval from the country’s health authorities.
Fighting bad with bad
Before going any further, this isn’t a call to take up smoking. The team underscores that they do not encourage this habit, which kills 50% of those who take it up and leads to more severe cases of COVID-19 due to the toxic effect of tobacco smoke.
“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 Pitié-Salpêtrière report authors wrote.
The team questioned 480 patients who tested positive for the virus, 350 of which were hospitalized while the rest were sent home as they showed only light symptoms. The median age for the hospitalized group was 65 and only 4.4% of these patients reported being regular smokers. Among those sent home, the median age was 44 and only 5.3% smoked.
After controlling for their average age and their sex, the team reports that the number of smokers in each group was much lower than that in the general population as estimated by the French health authority Santé Publique France. Smoking levels in France are estimated to be 40% for the cohort aged 44-53 and between 8.8% to 11.3% for the 65-75 cohort.
The authors cite further observation in Paris showed that around 8.5% of a total number of 11,000 COVID-19 patients were smokers (around 25.4% of all people in France as estimated to be smokers), and a study on Chinese patients published in March that suggested only 12.6% of 1,000 people infected with the virus were smokers (the percentage of smokers in China is around 28%).
Such findings would seem to suggest that some components of tobacco smoke may help insulate from infection with SARS-CoV-2, although what substance that is — and how it works — is still unknown. Which is why the authors call for the testing of nicotine patches. They plan to conduct a clinical study involving health workers and patients, including those in intensive care (ICU), who will receive nicotine patches. With a bit of luck, we’ll find some useable defense against the virus
“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,” the paper adds.
For now, however, I would like to remind everyone that smoking is confirmed to be bad for your health and deadly to 50% of those who smoke; it is not, under anyway, currently confirmed to help you against COVID-19. Smokers develop worse cases of infection and have lower overall chances of survival from the disease. So don’t go buying a carton of smokes just yet.
The paper “A nicotinic hypothesis for Covid-19 with preventive and therapeutic implications” has been published in the journal Qeios.