Yet another reason not to smoke: It gives superbugs superpowers
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Cigarette smoke can make a person lightheaded. Sometimes it can be in a nauseous get-me-out of here way. It can incite long rants. The rants are about the dangers of lung cancer. And they are about the evils of the tobacco industry. It can also pump up the powers of bacteria invading a person’s body. That is according to a study.
“Smoke can also stress out invasive bacteria. It can make them more aggressive.” So said Laura E. Crotty Alexander. She is an assistant clinical professor of medicine. She works at UC San Diego.
In particular, she’s talking about the antibiotic resistant superbug Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It can cause fatal infections. These occur in the skin or blood stream. They occur at surgical sites. Crotty Alexander showed how exposure to smoke may make them even more harmful. These results are from the study.
Researchers grew MRSA in a lab. They grew some with cigarette smoke extract. They also grew some some in a “non-smoking section” of the lab bench. They let the MRSA loose on immune cells. The cigarette-smoke bacteria were harder to kill. They were resistant to chemical attacks. They were also resistant to the small pieces of protein that immune cells use to poke holes in invaders.
Next the researcher exposed human cells to the MRSA. The cigarette-smoke population was better at glomming onto them. It was also better at invading them. The researchers are not sure of the exact mechanism. But they think that smoke could alter the charge of the MRSA’s cell walls.
Be careful of touting the benefits of reaching for an e-cigarette instead. Crotty Alexander found that exposure to e-cigarette vapor also made MRSA all the more powerful. This based on work presented last year.
The connection between MRSA and smoke-exposure has been tested in mice. But it has not yet ben tested in humans. Future research will show if the connection holds up for smokers. They did find something interesting. MRSA infection rates are on the decline. Smoking rates are also on the decline.