Around 400 million people around the world suffering from a lung disease are nearly 25 times more likely to develop acute COVID-19.
Researchers from the Centenary Institute and the University of Technology Sydney have published a study showing why people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19.
The researchers found that the COPD airway cells had many times greater infection with SARS-CoV-2 than healthy cells.
"We examined the genetic information of infected cells through advanced single cell RNA-sequencing analysis," said the Centenary UTS Centre for Inflammation's Matt Johansen.
There was a 24-fold increase of viral load in the COPD patient's airway cells compared to the cells taken from healthy individuals a week after their COVID-19 infection, Dr Johansen said.
The findings, released in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, could help COPD patients who suffer from breathing difficulties due to airway blockages.
"It's highly likely that SARS-CoV-2 exacerbates this existing high inflammation level which leads to even poorer outcomes," he said.
Professor Phil Hansbro, the study's senior author and director of the centre, warned the virus in its many mutations and variants would likely be around for many years to come.
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Australian Associated Press