A group of researchers in Paris are planning to examine whether nicotine patches will help prevent – or lessen the effects of – the novel coronavirus.
It comes after a French study found that few people hospitalized, or at home, with coronavirus were regular smokers compared to the general population.
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, reported The Guardian.
To test this theory, scientists plan to put nicotine patches on COVID-19 patients – both in and out of intensive care – and on frontline workers to see if the stimulant has any effect on preventing the spread of the virus.
French researchers plan to give nicotine patches (pictured) to hospitalized coronavirus patients, intensive care patients and frontline workers
It comes after a study found 4.4% of 350 coronavirus patients hospitalized were regular smokers and 5.3% of 130 patients at home smoked compared to the general population. Pictured: A man wearing a face mask smokes a cigarette in Paris, France, March 16
Scientists theorized nicotine could prevent the virus from infecting cells or that nicotine was preventing the immune system from overreacting to the virus. Pictured: A man is taken to an ambulance at the West Revere Health Center in Revere, Massachusetts, April 21
For the study, performed at Pitié Salpêtrière, part of the Hôpitaux de Paris, the team examined 480 patients who tested positive for the virus.
Three hundred and fifty were hospitalized and the remainder recovered at home.
Results showed that of the patients hospitalized, with a median age of 65, only 4.4 percent were regular smokers. But among those at home, with a median age of 44, 5.3 percent smoked.
By comparison, among the general population, 40 percent of those between ages 44 and 53 smoke, and around 11 percent of those aged 65 to 75 smoke.
The researchers determined that far fewer smokers appear to have contracted the virus or, if they have, their symptoms are less serious.
‘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 study reads.
‘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 team says it is not advocating that anyone start smoking because cigarettes have fatal health risks.
However, 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.
In addition, the authors theorize nicotine could abate the immune system’s overreaction to the virus, which leads to serious complications in some patients.
The researchers will verify the study’s results by giving nicotine patches to hospital patients, those in intensive care and frontline workers.
This is not the first article to suggest that nicotine may ward off the coronavirus.
A French study from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie found that just 8.5 percent of 11,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients were smokers compared to 25.4 percent of the country’s population.
And a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 12.6 percent of 1,100 Chinese patients were were current smokers and 1.9 percent were former smokers
However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that cigarettes can increase the risk of contracting the disease.
‘People who smoke cigarettes may be at increased risk of infection with the virus that causes COVID-19, and may have worse outcomes from COVID-19,’ the agency told Bloomberg News.
The FDA has previously warned about ‘worse outcomes’ for coronavirus among smokers but did not specify what that meant.