Background: Infectious diseases may rival cancer, heart disease, and chronic lung disease as sources of morbidity and mortality from smoking. We reviewed mechanisms by which smoking increases the risk of infection and the epidemiology of smoking-related infection, and delineated implications of this increased risk of infection among cigarette smokers.
Methods: The MEDLINE database was searched for articles on the mechanisms and epidemiology of smoking-related infectious diseases. English-language articles and selected cross-references were included.
Results: Mechanisms by which smoking increases the risk of infections include structural changes in the respiratory tract and a decrease in immune response. Cigarette smoking is a substantial risk factor for important bacterial and viral infections. For example, smokers incur a 2- to 4-fold increased risk of invasive pneumococcal disease. Influenza risk is severalfold higher and is much more severe in smokers than nonsmokers. Perhaps the greatest public health impact of smoking on infection is the increased risk of tuberculosis, a particular problem in underdeveloped countries where smoking rates are increasing rapidly.
Conclusions: The clinical implications of our findings include emphasizing the importance of smoking cessation as part of the therapeutic plan for people with serious infectious diseases or periodontitis, and individuals who have positive results of tuberculin skin tests. Controlling exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke in children is important to reduce the risks of meningococcal disease and otitis media, and in adults to reduce the risk of influenza and meningococcal disease. Other recommendations include pneumococcal and influenza vaccine in all smokers and acyclovir treatment for varicella in smokers.