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Immune System Overreaction Reason for Severe Viral Infection Symptoms in Smokers

By Daniel H. Rasolt

Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2008

Several viral infections demonstrate more severe symptoms in smokers than non-smokers. The mechanism by which this occurs appears to have been found in a recent study. Influenza (flu), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were of primary focus in the study.
COPD is a viral disease that encompasses emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and has been connected to cigarette smoking in a multitude of past studies. COPD symptoms include lung inflammation and cell destruction, among other things. The inflammation associated with COPD is more pronounced and progressive in cigarette smokers, but the reason for this has not been clearly demonstrated until now.
According to the study, cigarette smoke is a "complex mixture of over 4,500 chemicals including free radicals and oxidants." It's been thought for some time that these chemicals limit the immune systems response, but the study found the story to be quite different.
Mice were exposed to cigarette smoke on a daily basis, and then subjected to a mimic flu virus. "The anti-viral responses in the cigarette smoke exposed mice were not only not defective, but were hyperactive. These findings suggest that smokers do not get in trouble because they can't clear or fight off the virus; they get in trouble because they overreact to it," says study author Dr. Jack Elias.  
Similarly, mice exposed to cigarette smoke had increased damage to the airways and accelerated emphysema, due to an immune response overreaction to the viral infections. Specifically, "more severe disease exacerbation, heightened inflammation, and accelerated loss of lung function compared with other causes of disease exacerbation" says the study.
This unexpected discovery could have profound effects on the way viral infections are treated in smokers, as well as a better understanding of how smoking adversely effects health. Concludes Dr. Elias, "if the exaggerated responses are verified in human studies, it will be the first explanation for why viral infections are more serious in smokers. Once verified, we can find ways to prevent the destruction of lung tissue and the higher illness and death among smokers."

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Kang, Min-Jong. Elias, Jack. et al. Journal of Clinical Investigation. "Cigarette smoke selectively enhances viral PAMP– and virus-induced pulmonary innate immune and remodeling responses in mice." July 2008. Pert, Karen. Journal of Clinical Investigation news release. July 2008.

Daniel H. Rasolt writes for Defeat Diabetes® News. Read more of his original content articles.

Copyright © 2008 Defeat Diabetes Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.

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