Are e-cigarette smokers at risk from superbugs? Vapour helps deadly bacteria to thrive, say scientists
- E-cigarettes have been hailed as a new 'healthier' alternative to smoking
- However new study shows users are more at risk from superbugs
- Vapour puts bacteria on the defensive, making them harder to kill
- Inhaling it also diminishes body's ability to fight any infection
They are touted as the healthy alternative to smoking. But electronic cigarettes could make superbugs more deadly.
A study found that vapour from trendy e-cigarettes makes the hard-to-treat MRSA superbug more toxic.
And, in a double whammy, the nicotine-laden vapour also weakens the body’s ability to fight the multi-antibiotic resistant bug.
A study has found that vapour from e-cigarettes makes it harder to kill superbugs such as MRSA and weaken the body's ability to fight the illness
Researcher Laura Crotty Alexander said: ‘As healthcare professionals, we are always being asked by patients “Would this be better for me?”.
‘In the case of smoking e-cigarettes, I hated not having an answer.
‘While the answer is not black and white, our study suggests a response: even if e-cigarettes may not be as bad as tobacco, they still have measurable detrimental effects on health.’
E-cigarettes are seen as a safer alternative to smoking because they are free of the tobacco and so the tar and other chemicals that make normal cigarettes so deadly.
There are growing concerns that the devices could glamorise smoking again and act as a gateway to tobacco
They do contain nicotine and this, and the fact they can be held in the hand and ‘smoked,’ makes them popular with smokers who are trying to quit but miss the rush of the drug and the routine of lighting up.
Their popularity has trebled in just two years, with more than two million Britons regularly using them – up from around 700,000 in 2012.
However, there is growing concern that they will glamorise smoking to the young – and once hooked on nicotine, they will move onto conventional cigarettes.
There are also fears that they still contain cancer-causing chemicals and that the flavourings used made them attractive to children.
Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, said recently: 'We are normalising e-cigarettes. If they were regulated as a medicine and we knew what was in them and the dose of nicotine, then they might play a useful role in stopping smoking.
'But they aren't, so at the moment we don't know their safety or dose they deliver.
'Flavourings are often attractive to children - cookies and cream and bubblegum.
'They are sold rather cheaply and many are made in China, so I worry about what's in them.
'I am also worried about once again making smoking seem like a normal activity.'
In the latest study, US researchers looked at what happens when the MRSA superbug is exposed to e-cigarette vapour.
The tests were done on bugs in a dish but exposure will occur in real life because MRSA often lurks in the throat and nose and throat, poised to strike if someone becomes ill and their immunity falls or if it can find its way into the body through a cut or wound.
In the study vapour from the e-cigarettes made diseases such as MRSA think they were under attack, making them more difficult to kill using antibiotics
The University of California research showed that amounts of vapour similar to those found in e-cigarettes made MRSA more powerful than usual.
It is thought that chemicals in the vapour made the bugs think they were in danger – and so they ramped up their defence mechanisms, making them even harder to kill with antibiotics.
Dr Crotty told an American Thoracic Society conference: ‘The virulence of MRSA is increased by e-cigarette vapour.’
However, the study also failed to give real cigarettes a clean bill of health. In fact, they were found to fuel MRSA even more than the electronic versions.
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