The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations for young people between the ages of 18 and 25 is growing, and a new study suggests that the odds of dangerous infections in this age category is higher than previously expected.
Research from UC San Francisco shows that one out of every three COVID-19 cases among young people could become severe, and a major risk factor in this age group is smoking.
Study first author Dr. Sally Adams is an expert in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at UC San Francisco.
“Recent evidence indicates that smoking is associated with a higher likelihood of COVID-19 progression, including increased illness severity, ICU admission or death,” said Adams. “Smoking may have significant effects in young adults, who typically have low rates for most chronic diseases.”
The study was focused on data from the National Health Interview Survey, including 8,400 men and women between the ages of 18 and 25. The researchers found that “medical vulnerability” was 33 percent for males and 30 percent for females.
Medical vulnerability was measured based on risk factors established by the CDC: heart conditions, diabetes, current asthma, immune conditions, liver conditions, and obesity.
Smoking within the previous 30 days, including e-cigarettes, tobacco or cigar use, was also measured. The CDC states that all three types of smoking are associated with adverse effects on respiratory and immune function.
The analysis revealed that medical vulnerability was nearly doubled in young smokers, jumping from 16.1 percent for non-smokers to 31.5 percent for smokers.
According to Dr. Adams, recent research shows that young adults are starting to smoke at higher rates than adolescents, which is a reversal of previous trends.
“The risk of being medically vulnerable to severe disease is halved when smokers are removed from the sample,” said senior author Dr. Charles Irwin. “Efforts to reduce smoking and e-cigarette use among young adults would likely lower their vulnerability to severe disease.”
The study is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.