Center for Communications, Health and the Environment
Winter 2009Vol. 4, Issue 2
U.S. Tobacco Legislation Spurs Global Advances

Smoking May Increase Flu Risk

Flu season – and the H1N1 pandemic – are upon us, so for those who are thinking of quitting smoking, now may be the time.  Because smokers may be more susceptible to the flu than nonsmokers.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some studies show an increase in influenza infections among smokers compared to nonsmokers.  In addition, flu cases are often more severe in people who smoke, and more smokers die from influenza than nonsmokers, the group reports.

More than 25 years ago, smoking was identified as a risk factor for epidemic A(h1n1) influenza.  A 1982 study of an outbreak of the disease by J.D. Kark, M. Lebiush and L. Rannon in an Israeli military unit of 336 healthy young men (168 of whom smoked) concluded that smoking is a major determinant of the incidence of epidemic influenza and “may contribute substantially to incapacitation in outbreaks in populations that smoke heavily.”  Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study found that 68.5 percent of the smokers had influenza, as compared with 47 percent of the nonsmokers. Influenza was also more severe in the smokers: 51 percent lost work days or required bed rest, or both, compared with 30 percent of the nonsmokers.  A quarter of all severe illness from influenza in the overall study population was, in fact, attributable to smoking, the research revealed.

Another study by members of the Department of General Practice at University Maastricht in The Netherlands analyzed more than 1,500 people aged 60 or older in 15 family practices in South-Limburg, The Netherlands, during the influenza season of 1991-1992.  Researchers concluded that smoking has no clinical or preventive significance for risk of influenza in the elderly, although the risk for serological influenza (flu identified through the detection of influenza virus-specific antibodies in serum or other body fluids) was slightly elevated in smokers compared to non-smokers.  Interestingly, based on a statistical interaction between smoking and vaccination when serological influenza was the outcome measure, the study results indicated that the efficacy of vaccination was greater in smokers than in non-smokers.

Smoking cessation could substantially reduce flu risk, and according to the CDC, kicking the habit offers immediate, as well as long-term health benefits, from a reduced heart rate within 20 minutes after smoking that last cigarette to a risk of coronary heart disease equal to that of a nonsmoker’s 15 years after quitting.  In the meantime, according to the Dutch study, smokers in certain age groups may benefit from a flu vaccine to reduce their susceptibility to influenza infections.

Read More:
Lead Article: The New Face of Tobacco Control in the United States
CECHE News: Combatting Tobacco and Its Deadly Effects in India
Also Noted: Smoking May Increase Flu Risk


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