A GROUP of French scientists are trying to see if nicotine could have a preventative effect on the coronavirus, after a previous study in a Parisian hospital confirmed that the majority of those affected by the disease were non-smokers.
This new study, in which the French Ministry of Health has been highly interested in, will be carried out at the Pite Salpetiere hospital by the internal medicine team and headed by the neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, a member of the French Academy of the Sciences.
Their research stems from a previous investigation, also carried out at that hospital, in which they detected that there was a low proportion of smokers amongst those infected. The study involved 480 positive coronavirus patients, 350 of whom were hospitalised and the rest, with lesser symptoms, were allowed to stay home.
They found that out of those who had been admitted to hospital, only 4.4 per cent were regular smokers, whilst their media age was 65. Those patients allowed to stay home had a media age of 44, and 5.3 per cent of them were also regular smokers.
The French government does not want to encourage their population to take up smoking, as it is a dangerous habit which carries other potentially fatal health risks and can complicate coronavirus symptoms due to the toxic effect of smoke on the lungs.
However, Changeux hypothesises that nicotine may stop the virus from spreading to other cells in the body, and lessen the overreaction of the immune system, which is commonly seen in the most severe Covid-19 cases.
To verify this hypothesis, the clinical trial will soon distribute nicotine patches at different doses to healthcare workers for preventative measures, to hospitalised patients to see if symptoms decrease, and to intensive care patients to see if inflammation is reduced.
The French Health Minister, Olivier Véran, said on Wednesday in the Senate that this is an “interesting” study, but he asked for the population to “Be careful, that does not mean that tobacco protects. Tobacco kills and causes more than 70,000 deaths a year.”
The findings about a correlation in nicotine users and coronavirus patients has been also confirmed in a Chinese study which was published at the end of last month in the New England Journal of Medicine. This suggested that 12.6 per cent of people in China who were infected out of every 1,000 patients were smokers.
In France, the data from the Paris hospitals shows that out of 11,000 patients admitted to the hospital as a result of Covid-19, only 8.5 per cent were smokers.