Smokers, vegetarians at lesser risk of contracting COVID-19


New Delhi: Smokers and vegetarians were found to have lower seropositivity indicating that they may be at a lesser risk of getting infected by coronavirus, according to a pan-India serosurvey conducted by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in its nearly 40 institutes.

The survey also found that those with blood group ‘O’ may be less susceptible to the infection, while people with ‘B’ and ‘AB’ blood groups were at a higher risk.

For its study, the CSIR took samples of 10,427 adult individuals working in its laboratories or institutions and their family members, based on voluntary participation, to assess the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2.

The study, which was piloted by CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), Delhi, said of the 10,427 individuals, 1,058 (10.14 per cent) had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

A follow-up on 346 seropositive individuals among the samples after three months revealed ‘stable’ to ‘higher’ antibody levels against SARS-CoV-2, but declining plasma activity for neutralising the virus, Shantanu Sengupta, senior scientist at IGIB and one of the co-authors of the paper said.

A repeat sampling of 35 individuals, at six months, revealed declining antibody levels, while the neutralising antibody remained stable compared to three months. However, both, the normal antibody as well as the neutralising antibody were much above the required threshold, he said.

“Our finding that smokers are less likely to be seropositive is the first report from the general population and part of growing evidence that despite COVID-19 being a respiratory disease, smoking may be protective,” the study said.

The paper also cites two studies from France and similar reports from Italy, New York and China, which reported lower infection rates among smokers.

Along with demographic information, possible risk factors were evaluated through self-filled online forms with data acquired on blood group type, occupation type, habits including smoking and alcohol, diet preferences, medical history and transport type utilised.

“The study found that higher seropositivity was found for those using public transport and with occupational responsibilities such as security, housekeeping personnel, non-smokers and non-vegetarians,” Sengupta said.

In July last year, the Union Health Ministry had said smokers were likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as smoking increases possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth, and warned that use of tobacco products could increase severity of respiratory infections and make people susceptible to coronavirus.