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Smokers who get COVID-19 have a higher chance of suffering more severe symptoms than their counterpa

As the COVID-19 caseload continues to rise, studies are starting show how smokers who contract the virus are more likely to suffer severe symptoms and even die. COVID-19 is the coronavirus outbreak that has crippled the globe, leading to more than 1.2 million cases and just under 70 000 deaths since December 2019.

Africa remains the region with the lowest caseload, recording close to 5000 cases at the end of the first week of April 2020. The caseload on the continent started to spiral in March, resulting in several countries introducing lockdown measures or curfews.

From a health perspective, various tobacco control advocates have raised warnings of the dangers of tobacco use linked to COVID-19. The messages are that smoking compromises the immune system and increases the risk of people contracting COVID-19.

Their calls are not in vain. A systematic review of several early studies that has been done on the coronavirus shows that smokers that contract the virus are even more likely to have more adverse symptoms.

The review, published in the Tobacco Induced Diseases journal, looked at five studies where the patients infected with COVID-19 were smokers. All of the studies were conducted in China, four in Wuhan and one across provinces in mainland China.

In one study, researchers found that there were higher numbers of smokers among the patients that needed to be placed in the intensive care units of hospitals or needed to be placed on a mechanical ventilation.

Another study showed that among patients who were most severely affected by COVID-19, about 3% were current smokers and just under 7% were former smokers.

According to the researchers, they were able to deduce that smokers were nearly one and half times more likely to have severe COVID-19 symptoms and close to two and a half times more likely to be admitted to an ICU unit, be placed on a ventilation system or suffer fatal consequences than those patients with COVID-19 who were not smokers.

It’s a known fact that smoking is detrimental to the immune system and that it has an adverse impact on the way the body responds to infections. Research has also shown that smokers are more vulnerable to infectious diseases and the habit causes various respiratory diseases.

Studies have also shown that smokers are twice more likely than non-smokers to contract flu and have more severe symptoms.

The challenge is that the pandemic is only four months old and there is therefore still limited data on the clinical characteristics of the patients.

The review does, however, provide significant impetus for health authorities to encourage people to stop using tobacco products to prevent the spread of the pandemic.

Across the continent, countries have started taking active steps to warn smokers of the dangers linked to COVID-19.

In Uganda, Smokefree Uganda have warned how sharing shishas – which are illegal — could increase the risk of people contracting COVID-19. In Uganda, there have been 52 cases reported. The country is currently under a 14 day lockdown epitomized by a curfew.

Although shishas are illegal in Uganda, young people continue to use it. According to a study conducted among young people in Kampala in 2019, three in every 10 young people smoke shisha although they do not know how harmful this practise is.

In South Africa, as the country goes through a 21 day lockdown, authorities have prohibited the sale of cigarettes. And in Botswana, advocates are also calling for a halt on cigarette sales as it records its first coronavirus cases and the government declares a lockdown on movement.

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