One way to prevent influenza infection is Steering clear of folks who are coughing and sneezing. Avoiding e-cigarettes can be another new research phenomenon.
In a small study with smokers, users of e-cigarettes and nonsmokers, the researchers found that the traditional cigarette smoker and “vapers” are prone to the flu.
But cigarettes and e-cigarettes seem to increase the risk of influenza in several ways.
“E-cigarettes can alter your response to viral infections and may make you more susceptible to influenza,” said the study’s lead author, Meghan Rebuli. She’s a postdoctoral research associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology.
Rebuli added that researchers found that men and women reacted differently to e-cigarettes and that women may even be at higher risk for flu infections if they vape.
E-cigarettes are small electronic devices that heat a liquid to make an aerosol to be inhaled or “vaped.” The liquid may contain nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since e-cigarettes contain fewer chemicals than tobacco cigarettes, they are generally considered safer. E-cigarettes can be helpful in helping to stop cigarette smoking, according to the CDC. But people who did not smoke should stop using e-cigarettes, they advise.
According to the CDC, more research is needed on the potential health effects of e-cigarettes.
And here comes this study.
“We know that cigarette smoking increases your risk of infection with influenza, and we were curious whether e-cigarettes would also disrupt the normal immune response,” Rebuli said.
The survey covered almost 50 people – 14 e-cigarette consumers, 13 tobacco cigarette smokers and 20 nonsmokers. On average, participants were overweight in the mid and late twenties. However, e-cigarettes vapers were somewhat younger with an average age of 23 years.
Rebuli noted that many e-cigarette consumers were former tobacco smokers, but they had to be without tobacco cigarettes for at least a year to be in the study. E-cigarette users had to have vaped for at least 30 days, though most had been doing so for a few years, according to Rebuli.
The researchers also demanded that e-cigarette users in the study had to puff the e-cigarette at least 18 times a day. Many have done more than that, with several hundred times a day, Rebula said.
All of the volunteers were exposed to a “live attenuated influenza virus.” Rebuli said this particular virus only replicates in the nose.
When the investigators looked at how the immune system responded to the virus, they saw differences in e-cigarette and regular cigarette smokers compared to the nonsmokers. But the changes differed depending on the method of smoking.
Rebuli said it’s not clear exactly how e-cigarettes led to the changes in the immune response, just that they did. And while the researchers didn’t look at whether or not a flu infection might be more severe in people who use e-cigarettes, “it’s a possibility,” she said.
Dr. Richard Stumacher is chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y. He said this study is an important step in better understanding the effects of e-cigarette research.
“What’s important to glean from this preliminary information is that there is evidence that e-cigarettes do affect the immune system in a way that’s directly related to a person’s ability to fight an infection,” Stumacher said.
The results of the study were scheduled for Monday at a meeting of the American Thoracic Society in Dallas. Results presented at meetings should be considered as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
SOURCES: dr. Meghan Ribolla, a postdoctoral research associate, and Leon and Bertha Goldberg Postdoc, the syllabus of toxicology and environmental medicine, Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Richard Stumacher, MSc, Head of the Department of Lung and Critical Medicine, Northern Westchester Hospital, Mount Kisco, NY; May 20, 2019, a meeting of the American Thoracic Society, Dallas