Vaping, smoking strongly linked to COVID-19, new study shows

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In a series of new studies, researchers found Vaping and smoking are strongly linked to a high risk of COVID-19.

They published a series of papers during the pandemic that focuses on the vital role of ACE2—which is already at the center of much other scientific research—to shape a clearer picture of the critical cellular mechanisms that regulate the deadly virus and its link to vaping.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

What do vapers, smokers, and non-smokers with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes have in common? They all are at higher risk for COVID-19.

The scientific explanation behind this is complex and not yet certain—but it may boil down to an enzyme known as ACE2, that lives on the surface of many cells in the lungs and serves as the entry point for the coronavirus.

Evidence shows that people with chronic inflammatory illnesses, vulnerable older adults, and those who smoke or vape, all have an abundance of ACE2 receptor proteins to serve as a gateway to the deadly virus.

The team’s special interest is on the growing problem of young people who test positive and maybe spreading coronavirus at alarming rates.

Even some older children and teens who have higher levels of the ACE2 receptor seem to be more vulnerable to the virus.

The team has published several key peer-reviewed articles relevant to the issue:

Smoking, combined with aging, alters more than 20 genes involved in lung cell function and results in a spike in ACE2 receptors and three other proteins associated with the coronavirus, according to a study in Frontiers in Pharmacology.

This strengthens the observations of other researchers, that smokers and people with chronic lung diseases such as COPD are more prone to coronavirus infection.

Because vaping and smoking tend to be long-term habits, the researchers examined the chronic effects of nicotine exposure on lung tissue in mice, keeping an eye open for links to known COVID-19 proteins.

They discovered other receptors with a direct relationship to ACE2, which also have a big role in regulating the inflammatory response in the lungs and cause a higher expression of ACE2.

This was reported in the Respiratory Research journal and may provide a gene target for the treatment of lung inflammation caused by smoking or vaping.

In a June review article, they draw additional connections between ACE2 receptors, smokers, and coronavirus.

For example, their analysis shows: In Wuhan, China, patients who smoked did worse; fatality rates were higher for men, who have more ACE2 receptors, than in women; and that ACE2 is linked to known nicotine receptors.

The review suggests that health care providers should ask patients about their smoking and vaping history, to better identify people who could be at higher risk for coronavirus complications.

Currently, the lab is examining blood and saliva samples of young people who have been infected with COVID-19 to evaluate ACE2 levels and see if the ACE2 protein can be a biomarker for a rapid coronavirus test.

In other recent studies, the scientists disclosed the 40 chemicals used in flavoring e-liquids and vaping pods, detailing their harmful effects on lung tissue; and demonstrated that vaping is associated with wheezing, which is often a precursor to emphysema, reflux disease, heart disease, lung cancer and sleep apnea.

One author of the study is Irfan Rahman, Ph.D.

Some study findings are published in Frontiers in Pharmacology.

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