The Royal Glamorgan Hospital in South Wales, a member of the NHS, might soon be giving trials on nicotine patches involving COVID-19 patients. Due to the surmounting evidence leading to the conclusion that smokers are less likely to be affected by the coronavirus, doctors are willing to give their time to try and understand nicotine and the role it plays in today's pandemic.
Doctors from the NHS hospital published a letter in the British Medical Journal in March saying that nicotine patches could be helpful against COVID-19. They urged for the patches to be discussed and considered as a form of treatment for coronavirus patients.
Jonathan Davies, a consultant trauma surgeon at the hospital, told DailyMail that they are looking at different angles in which nicotine could be a valid intervention to combat the disease from prevention to treatment.
He adds that the question in their minds is whether smokers are less likely to catch the virus or if nicotine given to non-smokers offers some protection in any form.
Similarly, doctors in France have initiated nicotine patches trials to see if they produced any therapeutic effects. However, medics emphasize that it is likely to be nicotine and not cigarettes that benefit smokers.
Scientists have developed a theory that nicotine reduces ACE-2 receptors, which are proteins in the body that the virus attaches to in order to infect cells.
Are Cigarette Smokers Protected from Coronavirus?
Interest in this topic has peaked after studies repeatedly displayed a low prevalence of smokers hospitalized with COVID-19. University College London reviewed 28 studies in April and found a significantly low rate of smokers among COVID-19 patients.
One of the studies showed that the proportion of COVID-19 patients who smoked was just five percent, about a third of the national rate of 14.4 percent.
However, researchers believe that the low prevalence of smokers may just be because initial patient interviews regarding their smoking habits are not properly carried out.
Some add that doctors could also be too busy to be accurately noting down all their patients' smoking habits, or it could also be that some patients are too ill to speak.
Nevertheless, even though studies and statistics are suggestive that smokers are less likely to catch the disease, scientists do admit that they find the occurrence pretty 'weird'.
Nicotine Patches can Fight COVID-19's Cytokine Storm
Some scientists have considered nicotine's ability to prevent inflammation. The substance has been shown to halt the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines involved in promoting an inflammatory response.
A 'cytokine storm' is a phenomenon in which a bounty of cytokines is released in response to an infection. It is very dangerous and can lead to respiratory and multiple-organ failure. It is currently being examined by many scientists as a target in treating COVID-19.
According to Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos of the University of West Attica, Greece, nicotine has positive effects on the immune system that could benefit the body by reducing the intensity of the cytokine storm. His study on the subject was published in the journal Internal and Emergency Medicine.