Current smokers and those with a type of lung disease are at an increased risk of suffering severe complications and dying from coronavirus, new research suggests.

Over the past several months, numerous controversial studies have claimed that cigarettes may be protective, potentially due to nicotine.

But researchers from University College London in the UK found the COVID-19 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of diseases caused by smoking, are at a two-fold risk of becoming severely and at an increased risk of dying.

What’s more, smokers were 1.45 times more likely to have severe complications compared to former smokers and those who had never smoked before.

Severely ill coronavirus patients with COPD, which is mostly caused by smoking, had a 63% risk of suffering from complications compared to 33.4% of those without COPD (file image)

Patients with COPD also had a 5% greater risk of dying from the virus compared to those without COPD. Pictured: Nurses and doctors clear the area before defibrillating a patient with COVID-19 who went into cardiac arrest at St Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers, NY, April 20

Current smokers were 1.45 times more likely to have serious complications in comparison with former smokers and people who have never smoked. Pictured: Doctors and nurses tend to a 56-year-old woman suffering from COVID-19 at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago, April 28

For the study, published in PLOS One, the team looked through research on the characteristics and features of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and the prevalence of COPD in COVID-19 patients. 

The papers were narrowed down to 15 that included 2 473 coronavirus patients, 2.3 percent of whom had COPD and nine percent were smokers. 

COPD is a group of diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that block the airways and cause breathing problems.

Early stages usually show few to no symptoms, but later stages include symptoms such as a lingering cough, shortness of breath and wheezing.

Additionally, glucose, which is normally pumped into the bloodstream to fight infections, leaks into the airways. This leads to infections by providing food for bacteria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 16 million US adults have been diagnosed with COPD – with nearly 40 percent being current smokers.

There is currently no cure, so physicians recommend lifestyle changes and treatments such as medication and supplemental oxygen. 

Results showed that critically ill coronavirus patients without COPD had a 33.4 percent risk of suffering complications such as low oxygen levels and needing mechanical ventilation.

But those with COPD had a 63 percent risk – nearly double the risk.

Patients without the lung disease had a 55 percent risk of dying, but those with COPD had a slightly increased risk at 60 percent.

Additionally, current smokers were 1.45 times more likely to have severe complications in comparison with former smokers and people who have never smoked.   

‘Despite the low prevalence of COPD and smoking in COVID-19 cases, COPD and current smokers were associated with greater COVID-19 severity and mortality,’ the authors concluded.

Over the past few weeks, several controversial studies have suggested that smokers may be protected from coronavirus.    

One French study found that only 4.4 percent of 350 coronavirus patients hospitalized were regular smokers and 5.3 percent of 130 homebound patients smoked,

This pales in comparison with at least 25 percent of the general French population that smokes.

Researchers theorized nicotine could prevent the virus from infecting cells or that nicotine was preventing the immune system from overreacting to the virus.

In addition, an Italian study found that fewer than five percent of 441 COVID-19 patients who needed to be admitted to a hospital were smokers.

The scientists described it as a ‘very low’ number, given that a quarter of the general population are known to be hooked on cigarettes. 

But health officials in both the US and the UK say they do not advocate that anyone start smoking because cigarettes have fatal health risks.  

What’s more these studies were published pre-peer review and have not yet been subject to scrutiny by other scientists. 



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