Nicotine patches to help fight coronavirus?
Doctors in Wales could conduct a formal trial after various studies suggest that smokers may be less at risk of contracting COVID-19. In France, clinical trials of nicotine patches are awaiting the approval of the country’s health authorities.
Researchers are planning to investigate the potential of nicotine patches to combat COVID-19 -- the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
This comes after a study in France, which appeared to show that people who smoke are 80 per cent less likely to catch COVID-19 than non-smokers of the same age and sex, local reports said.
The focus will be on whether the nicotine in cigarettes can really help prevent people from being infected by the novel coronavirus.
Researchers at Pitie-Salpetriere University Hospital in Paris had earlier conducted a study which showed nicotine may be preventing COVID-19 from entering cells. "We realized that the rate of smokers is very low, around 5 percent of COVID-19 patients," said Professor Zahir Amoura.
"When we compare this result with the general population, very generally, people who smoke have 80 percent less risk of having COVID-19 than people who don't smoke."
But this theory is still at the test phase, and experts say people should temper their eagerness to find possible protection against the coronavirus.
Clinical trials of nicotine patches are awaiting the approval of French health authorities.
But France has already moved to prevent the stockpiling of nicotine products after its Health Minister took an interest in the above study suggesting smokers may be much less at risk of contracting the highly-contagious virus.
The idea to see the potential of nicotine patches in beating COVID-19 was raised by doctors at a hospital in Wales where the improvised treatment is being practised.
Doctors in Wales who published their own suggestions in January on the use of the stimulants in treating COVID-19 have been discussing the possibility of a formal trial.
“We saw the pandemic coming from China and then the horrific stories from Italy, so we were doing our own research and looking at as many papers as we could,” said Jonathan Davies, a consultant trauma surgeon at Royal Glamorgan hospital in Wales. In this hospital, doctors have been routinely giving out nicotine patches to patients with coronavirus and who had been smokers, said a report in the Guardian.
The result was a short paper published in the British Medical Journal which stated that, at least in chronic smokers, the lung injuries in those infected with COVID-19 were being exacerbated by nicotine withdrawal.
The addictive stimulant could interfere with the production of elements that led to inflammation, according to its authors.
“Of course, everyone should stop smoking. If you are a smoker then you are at risk of all the secondary complications if the virus does take hold,” said Davies.
But he suggested in such cases nicotine could be used as a supplement.
The suggestion by Davies and colleagues led to conversations with Prof Judith Hall of Cardiff University -- a medical innovator involved in global development who has said she will approach British funding bodies for support to trial the potential role of nicotine in managing COVID-19.
“Getting trials under way is of course time-consuming and complicated business, but we must try and advance new ideas as quickly as possible in this crisis,” she added.
However, the researchers made it clear that they were not encouraging the population to start smoking, which carries other potentially fatal health risks and kills 50% of those who take it up.
While nicotine may protect smokers from the virus, those who have caught it often develop more serious symptoms because of the toxic effect of tobacco smoke on the lungs, they say.