Does smoking put me at risk?
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence linking smoking to adverse health outcomes such as cancers, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease. All of these place stress on the body making it more difficult to fight infections such as the novel respiratory virus, SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. Furthermore, even if your smoking has not contributed to a chronic medical condition you are still more susceptible to infections and to experience more severe infections. Coronavirus has a higher mortality rate for men than women in China. Researchers suspect this could be partially due to the fact that a higher ratio of Chinese men to women smoke.
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Why does smoking put me at risk?
Smoking temporarily paralyzes and can kill cilia, brush-like hairs on the cells lining the airway. The cilia are normally responsible to waft away mucus and dirt away from your lungs. Without them, smokers are more susceptible to respiratory infections. Furthermore, the toxins in smoke cause inflammatory responses, damage and kill lung cells. This damage makes it easier for infections to progress throughout the lung and cause further symptoms such as pneumonia and shortness of breath. The inflammation caused by smoke inhalation also causes persistent coughs and increased mucus, exacerbating problems. Smoking also causes alterations in cells such as immune cells which may affect the immune response to viruses. Some of these immune changes are related to how much you smoke, but some are also reversible should you wish to stop.
Do you have other preventative tips in addition to stopping smoking?
There are many simple steps that you can take to stop COVID-19 spreading.
- Make sure that you wash your hands regularly - Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. In between, you could use alcohol-based hand sanitizers (try to ensure that they are at least 60% alcohol).
- Always cover your mouth when you sneeze - The best option is to sneeze into a tissue and to dispose of it in a closed bin as soon as possible. Then, you should wash your hands as soon as possible. If you do not have a tissue available, you can sneeze into the crook of your elbow, to help prevent the virus become airborne.
- You should avoid close contact with people - Shaking hands, hugging and other forms of physical contact can encourage the spread of the virus from one person to another. Respiratory droplets (the main transmission method) can travel for 1 meter through the air before they fall to the ground. Therefore, it is also advisable to stay more than a meter away from others where possible.
- Try to avoid touching your face - Many people don't realise how often then touch their face. Touching your face can transfer viruses and bacteria from other surfaces you've touched to the susceptible areas of your body - mouth, nose, eyes.
- Disinfect surfaces where possible - Use an alcohol-based cleaner or bleach to keep surfaces clean to avoid the spread of the virus.
- If you feel ill seek appropriate medical care - If you have any symptoms of Coronavirus, it is a good idea to phone ahead to find out what the procedure is. Some clinics may recommend that you stay at home. Make sure that you give a full account of your symptoms, the length of your illness and your recent travel history.
- Protect yourself - If you are caring for someone who is ill, it is advisable to wear a mask to protect yourself. But you should always ensure that you regularly replace the mask (following manufacturers advice) and that you wash your hands thoroughly before and after changing or removing the mask. Ensure you dispose of the mask appropriately. Do not re-use disposable masks.
- Handle food safely - Follow standard food hygiene practices. Ensure that raw meats are handled carefully, and that you wash your hands and any surfaces or utensils that came into contact with raw meat after use. Ensure that food is cooked thoroughly.
- Self-isolation - If you are coming from or have had contact with someone from an area with an outbreak, for example, it may be appropriate to self-isolate. The incubation period of the virus ranges from 1-14 days and is typically 5 days. During this period it may be possible to transmit the virus if you have it so it is sensible to take precautions.
Remember to refer to guidelines, as the situation is developing. You can find more information from the WHO or the CDC.
Smoking is hazardous to your health, not only with regards to COVID-19, but also through the risk of developing chronic health conditions that make you less resilient to infections in general. It is never too late to stop smoking. In addition, be vigilant of how you interact with your environment and keep clean for example by often washing hands to avoid the spread of disease.
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