SALEM, Ohio (WKBN) – A recent study suggests people who smoke may be more susceptible to the coronavirus.
The study, published by the New England Journal of Medicine, found smokers were over two times more likely to have severe COVID-19 symptoms than nonsmokers.
Dr. Lawrence Schmetterer, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon with Salem Regional Medical Center, reviewed this link between smoking and the virus.
“COVID-19 affects the lungs, causing flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath. Those who smoke or vape may be more susceptible to COVID-19 because they may already have lung disease or inflammation in their airways that can weaken their ability to defend against bacteria and viruses,” he said.
Schmetterer said the act of smoking itself can introduce virus particles to the mouth.
He added smokers may be more prone because their lungs have more entry points that the virus can exploit.
The coronavirus starts at ACE2 receptors, which are proteins on the surface of cells that regulate blood pressure. As the virus plugs into these ACE2 receptors, it injects itself into the cells and spreads throughout the body.
Studies suggest lungs accumulate more ACE2 receptors after being exposed to cigarette smoke, potentially making it easier for the virus to enter the lungs.
“Unlike more common respiratory viruses, COVID-19 can also cause extensive damage to the cells in the lung wall and lining of the air sacs,” Schmetterer said. “As the body reacts to this infection, it releases an inflammatory response that causes the lungs to become even more inflamed and filled with fluid. This process can then lead to severe pneumonia or acute respiratory distress.”
Schmetterer said people may be able to reduce their risk of developing severe symptoms if they stop smoking.
“People who vape or smoke may not be as aware of the damage they are doing to their lungs until their ability to fight off an infection is compromised. Stopping smoking and vaping may be the single best decision you can make right now to help fight off this disease.”