Vaping may be driving the rise in young people hospitalized for coronavirus, top US doctors are warning.
Nearly 40 percent of Americans hospitalized for COVID-19 are between ages 20 and 54, according to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.
Smoking and vaping cause lung damage and inflammation that can make it easier for the virus to invade the tissue and cause more serious infection, several top doctors have warned.
And a study published in Chinese Medical Journal last month revealed that current or former smokers were 14 times more at risk of developing severe coronavirus infections and 14 percent more at risk for pneumonia than those who never smoked.
Now experts have a clear piece of advice for young people who want to reduce their risks of infection: stop smoking, stop vaping.
US experts are warning that vaping may increase the risk of severe coronavirus infection in similar ways to smoking – but that did not stop spring breakers from using e-cigs (pictured)
Before coronavirus emerged, vaping among children, teenagers and adults was considered a top public health issue in the US and, now, it may be driving the alarming rates of coronavirus infections among this group.
‘When someone’s lungs are exposed to flu or other infections the adverse effects of smoking or vaping are much more serious than among people who do not smoke or vape,’ wrote Dr Stanton Glantz of the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, in a blog post.
Less than 14 percent of the population now smokes cigarettes, but 16 million Americans live with a smoking related disease.
And even as smoking has fallen to all-time low rates, vaping has gained immense popularity.
About one in five young adults in the US is estimated to vape either regularly or occasionally.
The phenomenon is too new to know how it will impact chronic and long-term health risks, but it’s quite clear that it makes people more vulnerable to infections – particularly respiratory ones like coronavirus.
When asked if vaping could be what’s driving up the risk of more severe COVID-19 infection among younger people, Dr Glantz told DailyMail.com: ‘The answer is that it could be – but I don’t thin that we can say that it is yet.’
An alarming 38 percent of Americans hospitalized with coronavirus are between 20 and 54
Hundreds of Americans in their 20s and 30s have been diagnosed with coronavirus. An estimated one in five young adults in the US vapes – though it’s unclear how many with COVID-19 also use e-cigarettes
‘[A colleague and pulmonologist] had a couple of unusually sick young people with COVID show up, and they were vapers.
‘A plural of anecdote is not evidence but it is certainly consistent with that view.’
Dr Glantz explained that vaping and respiratory infections act like a one-two punch on the lungs and immune system, and amplify one another’s effects.
‘Markers of immune function and suppression are actually bigger in vapers than in smokers’ he said.
‘In terms of immunosuppressant and inflammatory effects, e-cigarettes might be doing more bad things than cigarettes – but both are really bad.’
Both smoking and vaping damage the lungs and immune system in several ways. For one, they hurt the tiny hairlike structures, called cilia, in the lungs and upper respiratory tract, that act like a filtration system, catching toxins and expelling them.
Cases of coronavirus have exploded to over 18,000 in the US, with young Americans making up a significant portion of those with severe enough illness to be hospitalized
With those cilia handicapped or disabled, viruses like COVID-19 can get deeper into the lungs, where they may cause pneumonia and more severe illness.
‘When they get deeper down in your body your immune function becomes more important in combatting bacteria or viruses,’ explained Dr Glantz.
But vaping and smoking depress the immune system too.
Dr Glantz notes in his blog post that other study have suggested that those with biomarkers of nicotine from vaping or smoking ‘did way wore in terms of viral infection.’
He added: ‘The systems we’re talking about seem exquisitely sensitive to insult.’
And as was seen amid the outbreak of the lung disease, EVALI, vaping itself (granted that disease is now thought to have been specific mostly to THC vaping), which allows tiny particles of chemicals, solids and liquid into the lung, can trigger pneumonia-like illnesses.
In the US, a growing number of coronavirus hospitalizations are for young people. Pictured: a patient is rushed to care at field hospital set up in Italy by a US charity
So vaping and smoking may make young people more vulnerable to coronavirus, which may in turn worsen the damage done to their lungs by vaping or smoking.
‘So what can I do to reduce my risk [of COVID-19]? Stopping smoking, stopping vaping, stopping marijuana and any other inhaled substances – that’s almost certainly going to reduce your risks and how bad the clinical course will be,’ Dr Glantz says.
He adds that non-inhaled quit-aids like nicotine patches and gums won’t add nearly as much risk for coronavirus as will using combustible or heated tobacco and marijuana products, but should be used in coordination with counseling.
Studies out of China have suggested that people who smoke (particularly men, who smoke at much higher rates there) may be more likely to get infected with coronavirus.
And when the US CDC released its data on the age breakdown of coronavirus sufferers in the US, making it clear that young people are getting the disease, and getting it more severely than expected, as Dr Deborah Birx said today, Dr Glantz’s mind went to vaping.
‘When I saw that stat, I immediately wondered, “what is going on here?”‘ he says.
‘I asked them if they were looking at smoking and vaping,’ but the CDC has not yet responded to Dr Glantz’s message.