Controversy Over Smokers' COVID-19 Risk Among Topics at ERS

Marcia Frellick

August 27, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The risk for COVID-19 in people who smoke tobacco or cannabis products and other timely issues will be featured at the upcoming virtual European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress 2020.

"We know that smokers are more susceptible to respiratory infections and often suffer from a range of chronic diseases," said Filippos Filippidis, MD, PhD, senior lecturer in the School of Public Health at the Imperial College London.

"Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that smoking is a risk factor for severe disease and death from COVID-19," he told Medscape Medical News.

However, some early reports from China and France have shown that the prevalence of smokers is much lower in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 than in the general population, leading some to think that smoking could be protective against COVID-19.

Filippidis will dissect the controversy and explain why comparing percentages of smokers is problematic and can lead to biased conclusions during his presentation.

Experts at the congress will also discuss whether smoking increases the risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe disease, how exhaled smoke could be a vehicle for virus transmission, and what the implications are for public health.

A COVID-19 roundup will take place on Sunday, the day before the congress officially opens, but the pandemic will permeate the full program, particularly the track on respiratory infections.

Because the "science is evolving every day" and treatment options for COVID-19 are emerging at a fast pace, "the program and presentations will be finalized at the last minute," said ERS President Thierry Troosters, PhD, professor of Rehabilitation Sciences at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Flanders, Belgium.

Sessions on post-COVID-19 rehabilitation, which encompasses physiologic and psychologic recovery, will likely be popular, he told Medscape Medical News.

In addition, there will be posters and presentations on the effect of COVID-19 on airways and lungs, public health approaches to slow disease spread, and the respiratory and pharmacologic management of COVID patients.

Deadlines have been extended so that "late-breaking data from major randomized controlled trials" can be added, said ERS President-Elect Anita Simonds, a consultant in respiratory and sleep medicine at Royal Brompton Hospital in London.

"This year, for the first time, we included a third-round call for abstracts," she told Medscape Medical News.

The best of the last-minute data will be highlighted in the ALERT clinical trials sessions.

Those are "a must-see, particularly for those who want to be fully up to date in their clinical practice," said Simmonds.

Airway Disease and Sleep Disorders

"There are exciting developments, too, in interstitial lung disease and sleep disorders," she reported.

The clinical presentation of sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea syndrome in elderly patients will be described. And a symposium on the relation between sleep and exercise will examine whether physical activity can help manage sleep disorders. Speakers will look at exercise responses in patients with sleep apnea and the role of blood pressure and exercise in sleep apnea.

The seven Lungs on Fire sessions will look at different clinical cases each day during the congress. Experts will present individual cases and participants will answer multiple-choice questions on topics such as lung cancer, pediatric respiratory disease, and pulmonary vascular diseases.

During one of the Hot Topics sessions, experts will examine whether wearable respiratory sensors can help in the management of sleep apnea or respiratory rehabilitation and answer questions on the reliability of the devices and the interpretation of device data.

And the "Rethinking Asthma" Hot Topic session will provide insight into management strategies and new treatments and describe the relevance of asthma phenotypes and endotypes in daily clinical practice.

"We hope the congress connects the respiratory community and supports healthcare professionals so that they can update their knowledge and apply what they have learned to their clinical practice and better care for their patients," she said.

Filippidis, Troosters, and Simonds have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress 2020.

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