Alcohol abuse may increase risk of severe COVID-19

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Some people are known to be more vulnerable than others to severe COVID-19, including older adults (age 65+) and those with certain pre-existing health conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease, and kidney disease.

But plenty of patients who experience severe COVID-19, sometimes including death, do not fit into these categories, implying that additional risk factors are involved.

In a study from Rush University, scientists found chronic alcohol misuse including Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is an overlooked risk factor for severe or fatal COVID-19.

The study outlines growing evidence strongly implicating alcohol misuse in COVID-19 severity.

Studies have found that AUD is associated with severe COVID-19 disease and/or higher risk of mortality, especially in the elderly.

Substance use disorders (SUDs) generally are linked to an increased risk of COVID-19 severity and of other underlying health conditions linked to worse COVID-19 outcomes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been characterized by eroded social support, socioeconomic struggles, and worsening mental health, contributing to increased alcohol sales and alcohol-related disease in the US and globally.

In the study, researchers reviewed data from studies on PubMed relating to alcohol misuse, COVID-19 severity, and factors and mechanisms involved in worse outcomes.

In COVID-19, some patients’ immune systems fail to control the replication of the virus, leading to high viral levels.

The resulting exaggerated inflammatory response—a “cytokine storm”—triggers acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

This severe form of lung injury is the most common cause of death in COVID-19. Increasing evidence implicates a certain inflammasome (a protein complex that induces inflammation to help clear the body of threats) called NLRP3.

Scientists found mechanisms by which alcohol misuse may impair the immune response to pathogens, especially in the lungs, and contribute to dangerous inflammatory responses.

These can help explain why AUD is a known risk factor for poor outcomes from viral diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C, and respiratory illnesses such as influenza and SARS.

Studies of people with chronic alcohol exposure and COVID-19 patients reveal the same systemic inflammation pathways, including inflammasome activation and amplified cytokine release.

Studies point to a plausible biological process. This relates to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, a battleground for COVID-19 possibly second only to the lungs; GI symptoms in COVID-19 are linked to worse outcomes.

If you care about COVID, please read studies about the cause of post-COVID syndromes, and how vitamin B may help fight COVID-19.

For more information about COVID, please see recent studies about rare blood clots after COVID-19 vaccination, and scientists find readily available drug that may treat COVID-19.

The study was conducted by Christopher B. Forsyth et al and published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

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