Tara Langston was in Hillington Hospital in Uxbridge, UK, when she filmed her message. Her words are broken by coughs as she describes the medical equipment she’s attached to and the interventions she needed.
“Anyone—” The 39-year-old began before a violent bout of coughs interrupted her. “—who’s thinking of taking any chances, just take a look at me. I’m in the Intensive Care Unit. I can’t breathe without this.” She motions to the respirator with tubes across her face. “...I’m actually 10 times better right now then what I was before… I don’t know. I’ve lost count of the days.”
“If anyone still smokes, put the cigarettes down, because I’m telling you now, you need your f**king lungs. And please, none of you take any chances, I mean it. Because if it gets really bad, then you’re going to end up here.” 
According to Langston’s husband, she is no longer in ICU and she is recovering. Before getting the coronavirus, Langston’s health was normal according to her sister. Langston posted her message in her work WhatsApp group before it went viral.
“It’s Not Just the Flu”
Some people are taking chances though. They assume the coronavirus will blow over by itself, and in the meantime, they will carry on as usual. “It’s just the flu,” they say. “Everyone is overreacting.”
The coronavirus is “not just the flu.”
In the U.S., there are about 12,000–61,000 deaths a year, according to the CDC, but social distancing and other protective measures aren’t put into place like they are for the coronavirus outbreak. People are stocking up on toilet paper, dried goods, and bottled water. Instructions on washing hands for 20 seconds and staying home are all over social media and government websites. Schools, libraries, and many other establishments aren’t closed for the flu season. There’s something more going on with the current pandemic. 
First of all, there’s no vaccine for COVID-19, and it could take months or even years for one to become available. Influenza viruses have seasonal vaccines and humans have been able to build up a natural immunity over generations. The coronavirus is new and people’s immune systems have never been exposed to it before, making them even more vulnerable. Even worse, experts are afraid COVID-19 will mutate.
The virus was first found in a patient in December 2019 in China. Now it has affected over 414,000 people, spread to 167 countries/regions, and caused about 18,500 deaths as of March 24, according to John Hopkins University & Medicine. 
The similarities between the flu and the coronavirus are there. They both cannot be treated with antibiotics and have identical symptoms like fever, coughing, aching, tiredness, etc. And they both spread through coughing and sneezing. Yet they have more differences than similarities.
“It’s a little simple to think the novel coronavirus is just like flu,” says Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security and spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “We don’t want another flu. This is additive, not in place of. Yes, the flu kills thousands of people every year, but we’re going to have more deaths.”
The seasonal flu’s fatality rate is less than 1%. However, even when including cases of mild and even undiagnosed cases of COVID-19, it would still be “roughly 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu,” says Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 
While panicking is discouraged, there is reason to take the pandemic seriously. It’s not just the flu. It’s something with the potential of being much more harmful — as has proven itself to be so in the short time it has existed. As Tara Langston has warned us, don’t take any chances.
Smoking, Vaping, and Drug Use Can Increase the Risk of the Coronavirus
While Tara Langston is no longer a smoker and hasn’t been for some time, the connection is real, and her warning is still all-too-valid. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the COVID-19 targets older adults and those with serious underlying medical conditions. Now another group has been placed under the label of “high risk”: people who smoke, vape, or have substance use disorders.
“[T]he research community should be alert to the possibility that [Covid-19] could hit some populations with substance use disorders particularly hard,” writes Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 
Since the virus targets the lungs, smokers and vapers are vulnerable to its effects.
“When someone’s lungs are exposed to flu or other infections the adverse effects of smoking or vaping are much more serious than among people who do not smoke or vape,” writes Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Tobacco Research Control & Education at University of California, San Francisco. 
Vaping is assumed to be safer than smoking but make no mistake. “Vaping affects your lungs at every level,” says Glantz. “It affects the immune function in your nasal cavity by affecting cilia which push foreign things out…[T]he ability of your upper airways to clear viruses is compromised.“
Because of this new high-risk group, young adults under the age of 44 are a large part of the COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S.
People who smoke are at risk of serious complications in general whenever they suffer from an infection. Here’s the scary part, the odds of a coronavirus case becoming severe — sometimes leading to death — were 14% higher among people who had a history of smoking as opposed to those who did not.
It bears repeating Langston’s message: “If anyone still smokes, put the cigarettes down, because I’m telling you now, you need your f**king lungs.”
In a time of precautions like social distancing, stockpiling, face masks, and extra hygiene practices, add one more thing that can reduce the risk of serious illness to the list: quit smoking.
“At a time when people are looking to reduce risk, it’s very sensible to stop insulting your lungs,” says Glantz. 
Since the initial viral video, Tara has improved and is recovering. Take a look at the video below.
- CTV News Staff. A COVID-19 patient recorded a video from ICU asking others to learn from her. CTV.https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/a-covid-19-patient-recorded-a-video-from-icu-asking-others-to-learn-from-her-1.4862793 March 21, 2020
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The Burden of Influenza. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html
- Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by John Hopkins University and Medicine. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
- Quentin Fottrell. Still hearing people say coronavirus is just like the flu? They’re wrong — and here’s why. Market Watch. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/coronavirus-vs-the-flu-its-just-like-other-viruses-and-we-should-go-about-our-normal-business-right-wrong-heres-why-2020-03-09 March 22, 2020
- COVID-19: Potential Implications for Individuals with Substance Use Disorders. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2020/03/covid-19-potential-implications-individuals-substance-use-disorders March 12, 2020
- Stanton A. Glantz. Reduce your risk of serious lung disease caused by corona virus by quitting smoking and vaping. UCSF. https://tobacco.ucsf.edu/reduce-your-risk-serious-lung-disease-caused-corona-virus-quitting-smoking-and-vaping March 6, 2020
- Gina Yu. How smoking, vaping and drug use might increase risks from Covid-19. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/20/health/coronavirus-vaping-drugs/index.html March 2020
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