Smoking suspected of accelerating COVID-19 spread

Research to determine if smokers are virus 'super spreaders'

Research is underway to find out whether smokers with asymptomatic COVID-19 are secret super-spreaders.

SAN ANTONIO – If there is one thing you can do to prevent complications from COVID-19, it would be to stay away from smoking, doctors say.

There is research currently underway to find out whether smokers with asymptomatic COVID-19 are secret super-spreaders of the virus.

With news that doctors worldwide believe the virus floats in air particles much longer and farther than initially suspected, there is a concern that an exhaled cigarette or vape smoke may be loaded with air particles.

“That secondhand smoke spreads throughout the outlets, the walls, through the doors, that this could be the potential complications,” said Dr. Mandie Tibball Svatek, associate professor of pediatrics at UT Health and University Hospital.

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The concern is redoubled by the high incidence of coronavirus spread in multi-family apartment complexes, which shows a much higher impact on Latino and Black communities.

“We’re finding in multi-family housing units that seven in 10 African-American children are exposed to secondhand smoke, as well as a prominent nearly a quarter of Latino community are exposed to that secondhand smoke,” Svatek said.

There is more inequity hidden in such living conditions Svatek said, with an estimated 15,269 housing units in San Antonio considered to be overcrowded.

And it is not just in housing units that the high density and smoking are showing a spike in cases.

A study completed this month in California found that neighborhoods with large numbers of people per household have about 3.7 times the rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 1,000 residents as those neighborhoods where only few residents live in tight quarters.

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Much more research is needed, but it’s suspected at the end of the day we will learn the mild symptomatic COVID-19 positive smoker with a chronic cough can spread the virus to household members and others nearby.

“So, it’s multi-factorial. It’s not just affecting those that are smokers that have COPD, but it could be affecting our regular population that’s living in those tight quarters,” Svatek said.

Vaping and it’s lung complications are also in the mix of concerns for pediatricians who say the exhalation of vape smoke also offers opportunity for the virus to latch onto the air particles.

Svatek is recommending any smoker consider now as the perfect time to quit. She recommends a program at University Hospital called Quitxt, which helps people beat smoking by regularly texting them interactive messages, real-time support, hip-hop music, videos and other educational content designed to help with motivation to quit, setting a quit date, handling stress, and more.

About the Author:

Ursula Pari has been a staple of television news in Texas at KSAT 12 News since 1996 and a veteran of broadcast journalism for more than 30 years.