Coronavirus patients to get nicotine patches in French study on smoking's effects

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French researchers are planning to examine whether nicotine patches could help prevent or lessen the effects of coronavirus.

The study will test nicotine patches on coronavirus patients and frontline health care workers after a different study suggested smokers may be less at risk of contracting coronavirus.

The study from a major Paris hospital suggests a substance in tobacco, thought to possibly be nicotine, may be stopping those who smoke from catching COVID-19. The Paris study found that few who had contracted the virus were regular smokers compared to the general population.

Researchers emphasized that the study was not intended to encourage people to take up smoking, which carries other fatal health risks and kills as much as 50 percent of those who take it up.

While nicotine may prevent smokers from contracting the virus, those who do catch it could face more serious symptoms due to the harsh effect of tobacco smoke on the lungs.

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The team theorized that nicotine could prevent the virus from infecting cells or that nicotine was preventing the immune system from overreacting to the virus, according to The Guardian.

For the original study, performed at Pitié Salpêtrière, part of the Hôpitaux de Paris, the team examined 480 patients who tested positive for coronavirus. Of those, 350 were hospitalized and the remainder recovered at home.

Results showed that of the patients hospitalized, who had a median age of 65, only 4.4 percent were regular smokers. Among those recovering at home, whose median age was 44, 5.3 percent smoked.

Compared to the general population, 40 percent of those between the ages of 44 and 53 smoke and 11 percent of those aged 65 to 75 smoke.

These findings will be verified in the new clinical study where health workers and coronavirus patients will be given nicotine patches.

Renowned French neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, who reviewed the study, told The Guardian that nicotine may be hindering the virus from entering the body’s cells and preventing its spread.

The results fall in line with a Chinese study published at the end of March in the New England Journal of Medicine which suggested 12.6 percent of 1,000 people infected with the virus were smokers while in China, 28 percent of the general population smoke regularly.

In France, figures from Paris hospitals showed that of 11,000 patients admitted to the hospital with coronavirus, 8.5 percent were smokers. The total number of smokers in France is estimated to be 25.4 percent.

“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.

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“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.