To Bogota, in 2017. JAIME SALDARRIAGA / REUTERS
It’s an embarrassing clinical trial. Launched in Paris in November, “Nicovid Prev” is to assess the ability of a substance to prevent infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But this substance is not harmless: it is nicotine. More than 1,600 non-smoking nursing staff will thus be placed on a nicotine patch for several months. “Many arguments suggest that nicotine is responsible [d’un] protective effect by inhibiting the penetration and propagation of the virus in cells’, says the statement from the Public Assistance-Hospitals of Paris (AP-HP), promoter of this trial funded to the tune of 1.8 million euros by the Ministry of Solidarity and Health.
The “discovery” dates back to the spring. Two studies are put online in quick succession by doctors at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. The first announcement, on April 19, that only 5% of patients with Covid-19 are smokers, while France has 25.4% of daily smokers. A figure that “Strongly suggests that daily smokers have a much lower probability of developing symptomatic or severe infection with SARS-Cov-2 compared to the general population”, writes the team of Zahir Amoura, head of the department of internal medicine 2, autoimmune and systemic diseases. The second study, for its part, formulates the hypothesis of a biological mechanism that could explain it and “Help save lives” : a possible action of nicotine on the entry receptors of the virus, called ACE2 receptors. “Nicotine substitutes could provide effective treatment for acute infections such as Covid-19”, argue the authors.
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As the meteoric progression of the pandemic leads governments to confine more than a third of humanity, media around the world are echoing the articles. In France, worried people rush to pharmacies to stock up on patches. “Panic buying” which forced France, from April 23, to limit sales.
Fearing to see decades of the fight against tobacco weakened by the rumor of a positive effect of smoking, the World Health Organization (WHO) is cracking a point. She recalls that “Smoking is responsible for 8 million deaths each year, due to cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, cancer, diabetes and hypertension”, and certify that “Available evidence suggests smoking is associated with increased disease severity and mortality in hospitalized Covid-19 patients”.
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