Former smokers more likely to die from COVID-19

May 27, 2021

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) looked at the medical records of over 10,000 COVID-19 patients and found that significantly more former smokers ended up in the hospital and died from COVID-19 than those who still smoked or had never smoked at all, according to a news release from UTMB.

Smoking can lead to increased risks of infections and worse outcomes for a range of diseases including pneumonia, tuberculosis, and rhinovirus, among others, but what about COVID-19? As scientists and medical experts race to learn more about the new disease, experts at UTMB looked at medical records and smoking habits of thousands of patients and found a surprising link between the new disease and the hard to break habit.

“COVID-19 predominantly effects the respiratory system and smokers are at risk of viral infections, so we were interested in understanding the impact of coronavirus among smokers,” said Dr. Gulshan Sharma, senior author and professor and director of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine at UTMB.

The team of doctors and researchers looked at the medical records of 10,216 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 and provided information about their smoking habits. The majority, about 87 percent, indicated they’d never smoked while about 9 percent were former smokers and 3.9 percent said they were current smokers.

Former smokers were the group most likely to end up hospitalized or die because of COVID-19, their analysis found.

One variable that may be affecting the outcome of these patients is age. The risks of smoking-related disease result largely from cumulative damage; hence, the consequences of smoking occur disproportionately among the elderly, authors of the study said. In the study, the UTMB researchers estimated that the odds of hospitalization from COVID-19 increased by 6 percent for every year of age in the population studied.

In the cohort the researchers studied, the mean age of former smokers was 10 years older than that of current smokers and 12 years older than that of never smokers.

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