It’s widely understood that young people who contract COVID-19 will usually have mild viral symptoms. But the latest research suggests that one in three young adults are vulnerable to falling seriously ill, with those who smoke being particularly at risk.
That significant number was found by University of California researchers, who studied more than 8,000 adults ages 18 to 25. They compared data taken from participants who participated in the U.S.’s largest health survey to known conditions that would exacerbate COVID-19: Factors like smoking, diabetes, obesity, or asthma.
Almost half of vulnerable young people was made up of those who smoked cigarettes or vaped, a statistic that surprised researchers.
“We were shocked,” lead researcher Dr. Charles Irwin, Jr. told Healthline. “It’s a really risky period of time for young people.”
Given that the novel coronavirus mainly affects the respiratory system, smoking’s negative effect on the lungs may be the reason behind these outcomes. Alberta’s health authority also posits that frequent hand-to-mouth contact could also spread the virus more easily.
Provincial chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw recommended that smokers consider cutting back or quitting their habit, but noted how stressful it can be to abstain during a pandemic.
The World Health Organization states that there’s no peer-reviewed evidence on the relationship between smoking and COVID-19, but reports that analyses of several studies in China and the U.S. indicate a “significant association” between smoking and needing hospitalization for severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Why COVID-19 cases among young adults are rising
Making young people aware they are not invincible to COVID-19 has been a consistent campaign in Canada, spearheaded by the country’s top health officer.
When it comes to why young Ontarians are contracting COVID-19, Guelph, Ont. researchers theorizes that young residents are potentially spreading it in social gatherings.
Lifestyle choices that weaken the immune system, like smoking or drinking, can also contribute. Another reason may be the high numbers of young adults who experienced job losses picking up work on the front lines, making them more susceptible to exposure.
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