“There is a lot of evidence that smoking is one of the major risk factors for being much more affected by the coronavirus or even dying.” Some time ago, the European politician and doctor Peter Liese warned. Now a study by researchers from the University of British Columbia supports his fears.
The ACE2 receptor is the gateway for the novel coronavirus: Sars-CoV-2 enters the cell via it. However, it is not only in the lungs, but is also present in the heart. Thus, the viruses can also attack the heart muscle cells, where they can cause acute damage to the heart muscle. In several studies It has been shown that in patients with severe Covid-19 courses, a biomarker in the blood was often increased, which is released by destroyed and dying cardiac muscle cells – as is the case, for example, with a heart attack.
According to this, smokers – just like people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, in short: COPD – have a significantly higher risk of a severe Covid 19 course.
For those in European Respiratory Journal published study had the team around Janice Leung First, samples from the lung tissue of 21 COPD patients and 21 healthy people were examined. They differentiated whether they were smokers, non-smokers or former smokers.
It was shown that there was more ACE2 on the respiratory tract of the test persons with lung disease – an enzyme that is found primarily on the lung cells (see box) and is considered to be a receptor for the novel coronavirus.
Molecules more relevant than damage
Since the ACE2 concentration was particularly high in smokers, Leung and her colleagues checked the results on the lung tissue of 249 healthy people. And there, too, they found more ACE2 receptors on the cells of the respiratory tract.
“That could explain their greater risk of developing a severe disease with Covid-19,” said Leung. To date, the increased susceptibility of smokers and COPD patients to the previous damage to the lungs had been explained.
Those who stop now benefit
However, smokers do not simply have to surrender to their fate: “We also found that ex-smokers had similar ACE2 values to non-smokers.” This suggests that “there is no better time to quit smoking.”