THE INVESTIGATORS: Doctor warns vaping could increase risk of coronavirus in young population

THE INVESTIGATORS: Those who vape or smoke could be at greater risk for getting COVID-19, doctor says

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Coronavirus continues to tighten its grip on Louisiana and as new cases flood in daily, one doctor is concerned vaping and smoking could put people at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

“The younger population, the 20 to 29, has had a lot more incidents of mortality and severe illness than we’ve initially anticipated,” said Dr. Jacob Wood with Baton Rouge General.

In Louisiana, as of March 25, there are 151 positive cases of coronavirus among people ages 20 to 29 and nine cases among those 20-years-old or younger. While the older population is certainly seeing a high number of positive cases, Wood says the illness that’s popping up in younger people could be tied to the popularity of vaping among that age group.

“The chronic exposure of the lungs to the flavors in the vape and the chronic exposure to nicotine and the other active compounds in the vaping, that chronic exposure is what’s going to lead to trouble,” said Wood.

The doctor is not saying every positive case among younger people is related to vaping or smoking, but he says it could be a factor in otherwise healthy young people. He says the problem lies in the severe damage those products can unleash on the lungs.

Any substance or condition that harms the lungs puts a person at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting off COVID-19.
Any substance or condition that harms the lungs puts a person at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting off COVID-19. (Source: Video Blocks)

“The lungs have got its own set of immune responses to viruses, bacteria, and those kinds of things that come along, and the vaping will actually decrease that immune response,” said Wood.

Dr. Beau Clark, coroner for East Baton Rouge Parish, agreed in a news conference on Monday, March 23, saying the immune system could be weakened by smoking and make anyone more susceptible to the virus, which attacks the lungs.

“Anything that infects or hurts the lungs can create an issue where you cannot fight the virus as easily,” he added.

The 9News Investigators requested the numbers of vape and smoke products confiscated from students in the capital area to see just how rampant the use of those items is among young people. According to that data, schools in the capital region reported quite a few incidents during the 2018-19 school year. The results are as follows:

  • Livingston Parish - 355
  • East Baton Rouge Parish - 166
  • Central - 92
  • Ascension Parish - 76
  • Zachary - 31

Dr. Wood warns it’s important for parents to talk with their kids about their potentially increased risk for contracting COVID-19 if they smoke or vape.

“They may not know that that’s putting them at an increased risk,” said Wood. “I think it’s worth bringing that up, having that conversation because we want to minimize risk as much as we can in everybody.”

Because coronavirus testing is limited, the doctor says those conversations are especially vital. As of March 25, Louisiana has 1,795 positive cases of the virus reported statewide, but the doctor believes what’s being reported through the Louisiana Department of Health is just a snapshot of what could truly be out there.

“Those numbers do not accurately reflect the amount of coronavirus that’s out in the population, so along those lines, when they’re considering things like smoking, like vaping, really anything during this time that would decrease your ability to fight off infection is going to be something to avoid. You don’t want to take that chance,” said Wood.

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