COVID positive smokers are twice as likely to be hospitalised

COVID positive smokers, hospital
© Jura Stanic

According to research by King’s College London with 2.4 million participants, smokers with COVID-19 are twice as likely to be hospitalised

The impact of COVID-19 on those with diabetes, asthma, cancer and similar diseases are being studied, even informing the Government in their decision-making procedure for who should access the vaccines in what order.

However, this world-stopping respiratory infection is quietly hitting another sub-group: smokers.

Around 1.1 billion people aged 15 and over are smokers, with 80% of them living in low and middle income countries (LMICs). Tobacco kills around 8 million people per year, but with the ongoing pandemic, this figure is due to be higher than ever before for 2020. On top of that, there is no safe level of exposure to smoking – secondhand smoking creates 1.2 million premature deaths per year.

What did the new COVID study find?

Researchers used the ZOE COVID Symptom Study App to extract data about their participants. A third of participants report that they didn’t feel well during the early stage of the study, from March to April, 2020. Crucially, smokers were found to be twice as likely to need hospital treatment from their experience of COVID-19.

This study was first released in October 2020, but has since been peer-reviewed.

Current smokers appeared to be 14% more likely to develop the classic trio of COVID-19 symptions in comparison to those who don’t smoke:

  1. Fever;
  2. Persistent coughing;
  3. And shortness of breath

Dr Mario Falchi, lead researcher and Senior Lecturer at King’s College London said: “Some reports have suggested a protective effect of smoking on COVID-19 risk. However, studies in this area can easily be affected by biases in sampling, participation and response.

“Our results clearly show that smokers are at increased risk of suffering from a wider range of COVID-19 symptoms than non-smokers”.

Previous studies reported a confused outcome

Early articles suggested that smoking would make it more difficult for an individual to catch COVID-19, or that it would be even more easy to catch COVID-19. The literal mannerisms of smokers (a lot of touching their faces, or a lot of standing outside in the fresh air) may be responsible for how different studies in early 2020 approached the impact of smoking on COVID.

According to the British Heart Foundation, there is no doubt that smoking damages the lungs, rendering them more vulnerable to respiratory diseases like the one that has currently infected 1 in 50 British people.

Healthcare professionals are asking people to stop smoking in order to support the NHS.

Claire Steves, lead researcher, consultant physician and Reader at King’s College London, said: “As rates of COVID-19 continue to rise and the NHS edges towards capacity, it’s important to do all we can to reduce its effects and find ways to reduce hospital admissions.

“Our analysis shows that smoking increases a person’s likelihood to attend hospitals, so stopping smoking is one of the things we can do to reduce the health consequences of the disease.”

Read the study here. 

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