Does nicotine exposure increase the risk of severe COVID-19 infection in the general population?
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious respiratory disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). This disease originated in Wuhan in China in December 2019. Within a few months of identification of the first case, the disease had spread globally, leading to a worldwide pandemic, that is now placing tremendous pressure on global health care systems, with devastating consequences for communities. Whereas approximately 80% of infected individuals have mild symptoms, around 15-20% develop severe symptoms and therefore need to be hospitalized. As of March 10, the death rate appears to be about 3.4%, although this number is highly variable across different populations, which is also true for the degree of severity associated with the disease.
In a new Viewpoint article in The FEBS Journal, Jim Olds and Nadine Kabbani discuss the role of smoking as a primary risk factor for severe infection. The authors draw on the conclusions of studies of an earlier outbreak (SARS) and analysis of recent data on COVID-19 to propose that some high-risk individuals are “primed” for severe infection due to their exposure to nicotine. They present a model in which nicotine augments the risk of COVID-19 entry into lung epithelial cells through direct cellular action on the putative receptor for the virus (ACE2). This model could inform public health efforts to identify populations at risk and provide avenues for critical intervention.
The Viewpoint article can now be read in full in The FEBS Journal: https://febs.onlinelibrary.wil...