Tag Archives: superbugs

Smoking makes superbugs like MRSA harder to kill


In case you didn’t need any more reasons to quit smoking. A study from the University of California, San Diego suggests that cigarette smoke makes that nasty and stubborn MRSA bacteria tougher to kill through a variety of means. (And trust me, it really sucked to look at some of the pictures when I went looking for MRSA images. Yuck… I didn’t need to see that before dinner.)

This is kind of technical, so I am just going to quote from the article rather than try to explain it myself:

               “We already know that smoking cigarettes harms human respiratory and immune cells, and now we’ve shown that, on the flipside, smoke can also stress out invasive bacteria and make them more aggressive,” said Dr. Laura E. Crotty Alexander of UC San Diego and the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.

Macrophages, or immune cells known to devour infectious ages, were infected with both types of MRSA (smoke exposed and not) to test the immune response. Although both were able to take up the populations of MRSA, macrophages fighting MRSA exposed to cigarette smoke extract had a significantly harder time killing them.

Researchers found that this type of MRSA was more resistant to the reactive oxygen species, a chemical burst macrophages utilize once they have engulfed bacteria. MRSA exposed to smoke extract was also more resistant to antimicrobial peptides, another line of immune defense used to make holes in bacteria and cause inflammation. Even more alarming was researchers’ discovery that MRSA was able to adhere better to human cells when treated with smoke, assisting in the success of their invasion. This effect depended strongly on dose; the more smoke extract the MRSA was exposed to, the more resistant it became.

Get this, not only does cigarette smoke have this effect … so do e-cigs. From the article:

Another study conducted by researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine a year earlier suggested something similar with e-cigarette smoke; vaporized smoke can also alter the structure of MRSA’s cell wall to make it more resistant to bacteria. However, this research also discovered that surface changes to the bacteria increased 10 times more with exposure to cigarette smoke rather than e-cigarette vapor.