French researchers to test nicotine patches on coronavirus patients
A French study suggests that smokers could be less at risk of catching the coronavirus — and researchers now want to test nicotine patches on patients and health care workers.
Despite their findings, the researchers at a major Paris hospital insisted they are not encouraging folks to take up smoking, which carries severe health risks — including if a smoker does become infected with COVID-19.
Instead, they are probing whether the nicotine in cigarettes specifically plays a part in stopping smokers from catching the illness — and therefore could help protect patients and frontline health workers.
Their study looked at 480 COVID-19 positive patients at the Pitié-Salpêtrière medical facility, 350 of whom were hospitalized while the rest, with less serious symptoms, were sent home, The Guardian
Of those admitted to the hospital, with a median age of 65, only 4.4% were regular smokers. And of the released patients, with a median age of 44, 5.3% smoked.
Accounting for age and sex, the researchers found that the number of smokers among their patients was much lower than that in the general French population.
“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 researchers wrote.
“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,” it added.
Renowned French neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, who reviewed the study, suggested that it is the nicotine in tobacco which could be stopping the virus from reaching human cells and preventing its spread.
Still, while there’s a chance nicotine could protect smokers from catching COVID-19, the researchers warned that smokers who become infected often develop more serious symptoms because of the toxic effect of tobacco smoke on the lungs.
The researchers will now attempt to verify their findings in a clinical study using nicotine patches, pending approval of French health authorities.