The Health Ministry recently warned that smokers are more likely to be infected with coronavirus as it increases the possibility of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth.
Not just the Health Ministry, even World Health Organisation (WHO) had earlier pointed out the risk of smokers with respect to contracting COVID-19 infection. “Available research suggests that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 outcomes and death,” read the official website.
How can smokers increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission?
Talking about how smoking could further increase the risk of infecting other people, Dr Udgeath Dhir, director and head, cardiac surgery, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, told indianexpress.com, “We know that COVID-19 is a droplet infection, that is, it can be spread through aerosolization. So, when one exhales while smoking, the infection can spread via the smoke, similar to the case of coughing or sneezing. Again, during smoking, one has to remove the face mask, which means their mouth and nose are exposed. And if they are infected, it increases the risk of other people being infected too.”
Besides, sharing of cigarettes and hookah — which people often do — would increase the risk of oral transmission, resulting in the spread of the infection, added the doctor.
Can smoking increase the risk of getting COVID-19 infection?
Hand to mouth transmission: “You hold the cigarette in your hand when you smoke. So, if your hands are unclean and carrying the virus, chances are that bringing the hand close your mouth could infect you directly, which is a concern in case of smokers,” Dr Nikhil Modi, senior consultant, respiratory, critical care and sleep disorder, Institutes of Critical Care, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, told indianexpress.com.
Affects respiratory tract: Smoking also reduces the innate properties of the upper airways — throat, lungs and trachea, said Dr Dhir. “One single smoke reduces immunity and destroys the protective cells that clear away the infection. It also reduces lung capacity. Contracting infection with reduced lung capacity could result in more morbidities and more complications.”
Dr Modi added, “Chances of getting severe infection and pneumonia are higher in smokers. Secondly, all smokers are prone to other diseases like COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and heart diseases which, in turn, make them more vulnerable to severe infection.”
Tobacco and blood pressure: Tobacco also increases blood pressure, Dr Dhir explained, “Smoking even half a cigarette increases blood pressure by 20 per cent. And it has been seen that COVID-19 can cause severe infection in people with high blood pressure. Tobacco is one of the important causes of cardiovascular mortality, which is also one of the causes of mortality in COVID-19.”
Oral hygiene: Dr Dhir also pointed out that people who smoke usually have poor oral hygiene. There are certain bacteria in our mouth that protect us against various infections but smoke kills them.
With people facing a lot of problems while being in the coronavirus-led lockdown, smoking has increased among people, which takes a toll on their health. “Earlier people would usually smoke in a designated area outside the office. Now they smoke in the room itself while working from home. Just wearing the mask and taking other precautions is not enough. You cannot neglect other aspects of your health. Excessive smoking would further aggravate your health condition,” Dr Dhir remarked.
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