Smoking is an unhealthy habit for everyone, but a recent study suggests that it may be particularly harmful to people infected with HIV, and may hurt them even worse than the virus itself. Researchers suggest that finding more effective smoking cessation interventions for HIV patients could drastically increase their lifespan.

Using a computer simulation, researchers showed that tobacco use reduces the life expectancy of HIV-positive people about twice as much as the actual virus. Even HIV-positive patients who quit smoking much later in life still had a higher life expectancy than those who continued the habit.

"It is well-known that smoking is bad for health, but we demonstrate in this study just how bad it is,"explained lead researcher Dr. Krishna P Reddy of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in a recent statement. "A person with HIV who consistently takes HIV medicines but smokes is much more likely to die of a smoking-related disease than of HIV itself."

The findings are grim, especially when you consider that more than 40 percent of people with HIV living in the U.S. also smoke compared to only 15 percent of the general adult popular. In addition, smoking is known to compromise the immune system by helping bacteria colonize and build resistance in the body. A compromised immune system is the main characteristic of HIV; yet another reason for people with the condition to quit smoking.

However, there is a silver lining to the research; it points out the importance of smoking cessation for this already vulnerable population.

"This study makes clear that we must prioritize smoking cessation among adults with HIV if we want them to have an increase in the quantity (and likely quality) of life," explained Keri N. Althoff, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study, in a recent statement.

While quitting smoking is difficult, it is not impossible. Research has suggested that counseling, intervention by primary care doctors, and medication aids can all help to make this difficult process easier.

Source: Reddy KP, Parker RA, Losina E, Baggett TP, et al. Impact of Cigarette Smoking and Smoking Cessation on Life Expectancy Among People With HIV: A US-Based Modeling Study. The Journal Of Infectious Diseases . 2016

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