Anyone who has been smoking regularly knows that colds and runny nose can make them more difficult than nonsmokers. But people who are stupid could be in the same sort of trouble after some new (and very tentative) research today. It suggests that e-cigarettes may weaken the body's ability to fend off the flu virus, although possibly in a different way than cigarette smoke.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted an experiment with three groups of people through volunteers: self-reported non-smokers, regular smokers, and regular e-cigarette users. All three groups were exposed to a debilitated form of the influenza virus – the same type of virus used in the Nasal Spray Flu vaccine. In this weakened form, the virus can not trigger the flu, but the body's immune system reacts like a typical viral intruder on it. Before and after the virus dose, subjects were bled off the neck and nose and one blood sample each taken.
As expected, the immune system of smokers was less able to concentrate their defenses against the flu than non-smokers. In smokers, higher levels of viral messenger RNA were detected, indicating that the virus was able to replicate more of itself. However, this change was not observed among consumers of e-cigarettes, but others were either smokers or non-smokers.
These consumers involved genes and proteins in the innate immune system – the immediate first line The defense against infections and the antiviral response in general were suppressed. Another response to the flu, the production of IgA antibodies specifically designed for the flu, was attenuated in people who also used e-cigarettes. The authors speculated that these differences could also have dampened the body's long-term response to the virus, the so-called adaptive immunity (the part of the immune system that "remembers" viruses and bacteria it encountered previously).
"Taken together, these data suggest that the use of e-cigarettes and the smoking of cigarettes alter the antiviral host defense system differently," the authors wrote.
There are some big reservations about these results. Most importantly, the researchers have not yet published their work in a peer-reviewed journal. Instead, they are previewing their study this week at the annual conference of the American Thoracic Society. This does not mean that the study is garbage (and that expert-reviewed studies are always completely credible). It just means that we have to treat his conclusions with a little more caution.
However, other studies have suggested a link between a weaker immune system and the use of e-cigarettes, including a study from last year that shows that vaporizing a particular immune system can directly sabotage and increase inflammation in the lung tissue – at least in the laboratory.
The emerging issue, however, as with so many vaping studies, is whether the implied effects of vaping on the body cause significant harm. Organizations such as Public Health England have come to the conclusion that e-cigarettes, while not entirely harmless, are much less toxic than traditional tobacco cigarettes and can help smokers quit smoking. Even if Vaping could worsen your immune system during the flu season, it remains to be seen if its effects are negligible and / or nearly as bad as those of smoking.
On the other hand, some public health experts I have argued that there is much more research to be done before we can be sure about e-cigarettes and their potential health risks, especially in the long term. They (and the FDA) have also pointed out that the dramatic increase in teenage vapors is definitely not a good thing (and could even spawn new smokers).
So yes, to continue. Gizmodo has asked the authors of the study for a comment. We will update this post as soon as we hear it.