Wednesday 22 April 2020

Does nicotine protect from COVID-19? French scientists investigate

Nothing could rescue the Banter Era from the clutches of the coronavirus pandemic like the news that nicotine is the cure. In recent weeks, I have watched with mounting interest as evidence comes from different countries, all showing the same thing: smokers are significantly under-represented in COVID-19 wards.

It started when Konstantin Farsalinos spotted the trend in a succession of Chinese studies. Things got more interesting when the CDC found remarkably few smokers among COVID-19 cases in the USA. This was followed by a large study of over 4,000 cases in New York which showed that people with a history of tobacco use were 29% less likely to be hospitalised with the disease (the reduction in risk was even higher among current smokers).

Then we had the study from France, in which less than five per cent of hospital cases were smokers. That study has now sparked some serious scientific interest, as the Guardian reports...

French researchers to test nicotine patches on coronavirus patients 

French researchers are planning to test nicotine patches on coronavirus patients and frontline health workers after a study suggested smokers may be much less at risk of contracting the virus.

The study at a major Paris hospital suggests a substance in tobacco – possibly nicotine – may be stopping patients who smoke from catching Covid-19. Clinical trials of nicotine patches are awaiting the approval of the country’s health authorities.

The study is being led by the renowned French neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux who explains the biological mechanism he believes could be responsible here.

SARS-CoV-2 epidemics raises a considerable issue of public health at the planetary scale. There is a pressing urgency to find treatments based upon currently available scientific knowledge. Therefore, we tentatively propose a hypothesis which hopefully might ultimately help saving lives. Based on the current scientific literature and on new epidemiological data which reveal that current smoking status appears to be a protective factor against the infection by SARS-CoV-2 [1], we hypothesize that the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) plays a key role in the pathophysiology of Covid-19 infection and might represent a target for the prevention and control of Covid-19 infection.

The French media have more...

It all started from a study that has just been carried out by the hospital, and which concludes that smokers are less affected than others by the virus. From this observation in the field was born a hypothesis which seems solid, and has just been published by the Academy of Sciences. It should be verified soon by a clinical study: that it is not tobacco, but nicotine which would have preventive properties.

The study carried out at La Pitié follows several rather surprising observations on the ground. In recent weeks, several studies (which include "biases" that could make them unusable), seemed to show that there was a relatively low proportion of smokers among the sick. Prison populations or patients of psychiatric hospitals - populations that generally smoke a lot - seem to be little affected. All of this would suggest that smoking status is protection against the virus.

... For the record, the idea germinated from a happy coincidence. Through a mutual acquaintance, the Nobel Prize in Physics Serge Haroche, Professor Zahir Amoura met a month ago the world-renowned neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux. A specialist of what are called nicotinic receptors, the scientist suggests that nicotine could prevent the virus from fixing itself, from penetrating into cells: it would thus prohibit its propagation and constitute a brake on the development of the disease, which would finally explain the under-representation of smokers among patients tested positive

Meanwhile, Public Health England maintains that smokers are 14 times more likely to develop severe COVID-19. Let's see who is closer to the truth.

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