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Researchers to test nicotine on coronavirus patients

Frontline health workers and patients in France may be given nicotine after studies found that it could be an effective prevention of COVID-19.

A study at a Parisian hospital suggests nicotine was preventing people from contracting coronavirus. Of 343 hospitalised patients, only 4.4 percent were recorded as nicotine users; of 139 outpatients, only 5.3 percent were recorded as nicotine users. This is compared to the larger French population, more than a quarter of are identified as nicotine users. The researchers claimed that a “nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR)” plays an important role in infection from the coronavirus and that nicotine may help to protect this receptor from attack.

The study suggests that nicotine could prevent the virus from entering cells, therefore blocking the virus and preventing it from spreading within the body. Additionally it may also reduce the overreaction of the body’s immune system that has been present in the most severe cases of COVID-19 infection.

However, cigarettes cause 75,000 deaths a year in France and researchers were desperate to point out that people should not pick up smoking as a preventative measure.

“One should not forget that nicotine is a drug of abuse responsible for smoking addiction," they wrote.

“Smoking has severe pathological consequences and remains a serious danger for health. Yet under controlled settings, nicotinic agents could provide an efficient treatment for an acute infection such as Covid-19,” they concluded.

Deborah Arnott chief executive of the anti-smoking charity Ash, said the planned French trial “should not put smokers off trying to quit”.

Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist at the institute, added that smokers who do contract the virus “risk suffering more complications” than others. Scientists are suggesting that it is the nicotine, as opposed to the cigarettes, that was responsible for the surprising infection results, although more research is required to be sure. 

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