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Smokers at increased risk of coronavirus complications, leading experts warn

Lung disease experts have warned that that there could be a link between smoking and the development of complications of coronavirus as new research sheds more light on who is most susceptible to the disease.

The large volume of data now being released by researchers shows clear patterns among those falling ill from the disease, now called Covid-19 by the World Health Organization. 

A new analysis of the first 8,000 cases of the coronavirus carried out by researchers in China and the United States shows that men are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease, are more likely to have the most severe symptoms, such as pneumonia, and are more likely to die. 

One reason for the bias against males may be that Chinese men are heavy smokers. 

The analysis was published as the latest figures show there have been more than 64,000 cases of the disease and more than 1,400 deaths. The ninth case in the UK has also been confirmed. 

The Chinese and US analysis of patients shows that men are far more likely to become infected with Covid-19, with 55 per cent of confirmed cases among men. 

It also shows that men tend to suffer more serious complications – 61.5 per cent of those diagnosed with the most severe pneumonia are men. And the case fatality rate for men was more than three times higher than for women  – 4.45 per cent of men died, compared to 1.25 per cent of female patients, the study found.

Being an older male is a particular risk, the study showed, as nearly 10 per cent of male patients over the age of 60 in the study died.

The reason why men are more susceptible to the disease is not fully understood but this has been the case in two previous coronavirus outbreaks – Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars). 

Some researchers say it could be down to what WHO describes as women’s “inherent biological advantage”. However, it could be down to lifestyle factors, particularly smoking. 

The most up-to-date figures from the WHO show that 52.1 per cent of Chinese men smoke, compared to just 2.7 per cent of women. In the UK 16.5 per cent of men smoke, compared to 13 per cent of women

High rates of smoking have also been linked to more serious outcomes in both Sars and Mers.

One of the UK’s leading respiratory disease experts, Gisli Jenkins, professor of experimental medicine at Nottingham University, said that smokers had high rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a form of lung damage. And people with COPD are at high risk generally of respiratory illnesses such as the new coronavirus.

Prof Jenkins said it would be “astonishing” if smokers were not at greater risk of Covid-19 than non smokers. And he said there may be a link between high smoking rates and severity of the disease. 

“China has extremely high rates of COPD and it also has high rates of severe pneumonia. In this particular coronavirus 15 per cent of the Chinese population who have been infected have severe respiratory disease and around two per cent have died – in the rest of the world the disease doesn’t seem to be as bad. 

“We don’t yet know why that is – it could be that the epidemic is later in its evolution in the rest of the world. But we do know that in China there are very high rates of smoking and COPD,” he said.

Dr Sanjay Agrawal, chair of the Royal College of Physicians’ Tobacco Advisory Group, said research showed that smokers were twice as likely to get pneumonia as non smokers.

“They are also more likely to get infections, the reason being that smoking will affect your defences so you’re susceptible to both viral and bacterial infections,” he said. 

He added that the current strategy for managing the disease was focused on containment and delay – if it takes a couple of months for Covid-19 to really take off in the UK, smokers who quit today would be less at risk from the disease when it eventually arrives.

“The bottom line is there’s never a bad time to quit. You’ll see benefits within days, weeks and months. … If you quit smoking today you will reduce your risk [of picking up the disease] and in two to three months you will benefit,” he said.

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Source: Telegraph UK

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