Vaping and COVID-19: What are the Risks?

3 min read  |  November 22, 2020  | 

A recent survey of 4,351 young adults showed that electronic cigarette use might be putting individuals at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19 and possibly facing a more difficult recovery. 

Study* authors concluded that a COVID-19 diagnosis was five times more likely among users of e-cigarettes, seven times more likely among users of e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes, and 6.8 times more likely among individuals who had puffed within 30 days before the survey participation. The study took into account COVID-19 related symptoms, testing, diagnosis, sociodemographic factors, obesity, and compliance with shelter-in-place procedures.

How much data is available?

“This was the first scientific survey and analysis of the topic,” said Dr. Mehdi Mirsaeidi, a lung disease expert and an associate professor in the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Prior to this, no data was available. When added to previously known other evidence about the risks of vaping, it presents a significant additional concern.”

There are several layers to the vaping-coronavirus connection, says Dr. Mirsaeidi. His specific research has previously shown that vaping can paralyze cilia — microscopic, hair-like projections that line our small airways. When functioning normally, cilia sweep mucus back and forth in the airways to clear out inhaled particles and pathogens. Smoking traditional or e-cigarettes can paralyze the cilia.

“The viral load can become much higher in an individual if the cilia stop doing their job or slow down,” says Dr. Mirsaeidi. “The body’s natural immune response suffers, which can make one more susceptible to infections and complications. A significant inflammatory response can occur.”

Vaping is traditionally a social behavior.

Along with having a potentially reduced immunity to viruses, people who vape may contribute to the spread of the virus, says Dr. Mirsaeidi.

“We know that young people using e-cigarettes often do so in close proximity to each other. They may share the same vaporizer devices, boosting hand-to-mouth contact risks as saliva is exchanged. 

Additionally, coughing can send the virus out to significantly more people, potentially increasing transmission risks. Taken together, it could create a combined storm of alarming behavioral and biological risks for COVID-19.”

What’s next?

The next step, he says, is ensuring more research is done through COVID-19 outcome studies. By tracking hospital admission rates, placements into intensive care units, ventilator use rates, and mortality numbers, scientists and doctors will have a more definitive picture of the issue. 

“Nationally, documentation of e-cigarette use by patients is not yet as standard a practice as documentation of tobacco use,” says Dr. Mirsaeidi. “That is a definite need across hospitals and health care institutions, and we are not there yet. However, we plan to continue improving our practices and compiling data to add to studies that prove the need for additional educational, preventative, and legislative efforts to curb vaping and help users quit.”

John Senall is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. He is a former hospital and comprehensive cancer center communications director.

Tags: COVID-19, Dr. Mehdi Mirsaeidi, pulmonology, vaping

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