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Unless you've been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the World Health Organization (WHO) designating the recent viral infection by the Novel Coronavirus a pandemic. You've probably flinched from the barrage of reports, messages, press conferences, and news reports about it. And it's very likely that, even if you did recently crawl out from under a rock, you're now being asked by authorities to crawl right back under it again.
All humor aside, Covid-19 is an incredibly serious issue. The virus has shut down global travel, closed off entire countries, and devastated healthcare providers and hospitals across the globe. If you aren’t alreadyyou should take it seriously. Practice good hygiene, wash your hands regularly, prevent any unnecessary contact, and do your best to prevent its spread in your neighborhood. The best way to think about it is to assume you already have it, and act in a way that avoids giving it to friends and family.
Now, what does this mean for vapers? Is there a connection between vaping and coronavirus? You've probably already heard from several sources that smokers and vapers are more likely to be hospitalized if they contract the coronavirus and that their outcomes are much less favorable than other people. But how true is this statement? In this article, we'll work through some of the claims and information currently available to help vapers decide on their preferred course of action.
We warn you, however, that this situation is changing rapidly from week to week and sometimes even day to day, so some of the information you find here may get contradicted as the science continues to develop. Remember, this is an evolving situation, so be responsible and considerate with all the information you find. The potential for anxiety and panic comes both from the existence of the virus and the spread of erroneous information, so take care when sharing things.
Coronavirus and Smoking
Coronavirus is the technical term for the virus that causes a new disease known as Covid-19. It seems to have originated in animals, where it was carried harmlessly for a long time and for which the animals probably cultivated an immunity. The virus started transmitting to humans in December of 2019.
Since December, it has spread primarily through direct contact between infected individuals and often due to international travel. Most cases aren't too severe, resulting in little more than a flu or, in some cases, no symptoms at all. But coronavirus can cause pneumonia in immunocompromised individuals and the elderly, hitting those with breathing issues particularly hard. Developing pneumonia proves the most significant issue, as a sudden surge in pneumonia cases can overwhelm national healthcare facilities and deny patients the care they need to survive.
So what does that have to do with vaping?
To be brutally honest - we still don't know. We do know that regular cigarette smoking causes decreased and impaired lung function, which makes smokers particularly susceptible to the pneumonia caused by coronavirus. Studies in China have shown that smokers who contract pneumonia associated with coronavirus have worse outcomes than non-smokers due to the decreased lung function related to smoking.
On the other hand, there haven't been enough tests done on the health effects of vaping to suggest the same issues apply to vaping. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that smokers are more likely to catch coronavirus than non-smokers. Instead, the existing evidence suggests that smokers are less likely to recover as quickly and more likely to have less favorable outcomes.
You can find another article discussing these issues here.
We do know that New York Mayor Bill De Blasio reported in a press conference on March 8th that vaping can increase the risk of coronavirus. As we've mentioned above, this is not fact unless the mayor has information at his disposal that isn't yet released to the general public. To put it another way, if vaping causes decreased lung function, then coronavirus may cause more severe symptoms and an increased likelihood of pneumonia that often comes with it. But it’s still unclear whether vaping actually does cause decreased lung function.
A Few Notes about Epidemiology
As we mentioned above, the coronavirus situation is evolving rapidly, so reporting accurate information is complicated and fluid. Epidemiology is the study of epidemics. This includes their distribution and prevention.
Epidemiology deals with populations encountering a virus so that it can determine how that virus spreads and how it interacts with the community. To do this, epidemiologists compile data on the infected population as well as the infection itself. This helps determine the characteristics of the population that made it a subject of the epidemic. Gathering this information takes a lot of time and effort, and the total picture only really becomes clear once the virus is already waning or under control.
While the virus is operating and infecting, epidemiologists come up with models based on preexisting facts and knowledge of similar infections and epidemics. This means they're providing their best educated guess based on developed experience and previous examples. In the case of vaping, science has yet to settle on many medical issues surrounding it, which necessarily complicates any modeling that might result from epidemiological studies.
Right now, epidemiologists are most concerned with slowing and stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Their focus isn't necessarily on how vaping does or doesn't complicate infection. Furthermore, they're operating off of an incomplete picture given the different and extensive infection rates across the world.
The best suggestion is to take the recommended precautions such as regular hand washing and social distancing but don't expect a definitive final answer on the causality between vaping and coronavirus until more scientific inquiry shows a more definite connection.
Vaping as a Preventative
While much of the current research doesn't demonstrate an obvious or confirmed connection to the results or infection rates of coronavirus, there are some reports that the propylene glycol in most vaping juice can actually help prevent infections. However, it’s important to take these reports with a grain of salt, as the incomplete research is just as misleading as a rumor.
The argument of this research is that propylene glycol clears bacterial infections. This argument comes from clinical trials performed in 1942 by a doctor named Oswald Hope Richardson, years before the first vaping device existed. Dr. Richardson conducted a study where he placed mice in a chamber and filled it first with propylene glycol and then with the influenza virus. The reports suggest that all of the mice survived, but when they performed a control group experiment using only the influenza virus, all of the mice died.
This experiment sounds like terrific news. In fact, several follow-up studies were conducted on the bacteria-killing properties of propylene glycol throughout the years up to about 1963, including one at the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility. Since then, however, research has been scant with no recent studies done to confirm the original findings. Also, it's hard to find documentation on these experiments, or we'd share them here.
You can find some recent articles regarding the bactericidal activity of propylene glycol that are more current, such as this one from the National Center for Biotechnology Information. But we caution you not to conclude that elements in vape juice will help prevent transmission of coronavirus, as no current studies exist to support that claim.
Given the rapid spread of coronavirus across the world, it's completely understandable that there would be some anxiety and trepidation about it. The blunt truth is that this situation is very much in flux, with new information coming out about rates of infection and the virus itself daily, if not hourly. It's hard to keep track of everything going on, but it’s important to take care in getting the best information available and checking any sources thoroughly before passing on questionable data.
Though there is some evidence from studies done in the early half of the last century that propylene glycol helps prevent bacterial infections, don't immediately jump to the conclusion that suggests vaping keeps you safe from the coronavirus. The best we can say, given the sources available, is that it might help, but it’s certain that evidence from cases also suggests that lung damage from smoking does decrease the chances for a favorable prognosis in coronavirus patients.
That said, there is also no evidence currently available to categorically state that smoking or vaping leads to a higher potential for infection or that vaping and coronavirus have a direct connection. Like all the information now available, check the source. More often than not, sources making such claims have an agenda to consider, as well as a possible political angle.
Follow the health guidelines provided by the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control for the best practices regarding the virus. Eat healthy foods and take vitamins that help support your immune system like orange juice and vitamin D. If you are experiencing symptoms, call your doctor or medical provider first for best practices to get treated.