At the beginning of the pandemic, Covid-19 was considered a deadly danger for severe drug addicts. Now everything has turned out differently.
In February 2020, fear was rampant in the “Arud” center for addiction medicine in the middle of downtown Zurich. Here, where addicts can obtain heroin and other opioids under medical supervision, the worst was expected: “We feared that many of our people would not survive a corona infection. After decades of drug careers, many have serious lung, heart and liver diseases and are among the most vulnerable risk groups,” says Philip Bruggmann, chief physician for internal medicine at “Arud”.
Great astonishment among experts
What Bruggmann is now presenting, two years later, in the form of a study astonishes the experts. The study is part of the nationwide “Corona Immunitas” study and uses the example of the “Arud” center to show how the pandemic is affecting people in heroin or other replacement programs. The result: Instead of severe or fatal courses, the around 1000 people affected had noticeably mild corona diseases across the board. “We didn’t have a single severe course and nobody died of Corona. That’s lucky and a huge surprise,” says Bruggmann.
And this despite the fact that the patients have come into contact with the virus more often than average. The study shows that after the first corona wave in spring 2020, around 10 percent of opioid users already had antibodies in their blood – around three times more than the rest of the population, when only 3.5 percent of people had formed antibodies at that time had.
Riddles about possible explanations
The fact that it is precisely these people, who are often in poor health, who came through the pandemic so well, is also astonishing to infectiologist Jan Fehr, who, as head of the “Corona Immunitas” study, has an overview of the overall situation in Switzerland. There is no final explanation yet, he says, but there are hypotheses. One is that people with a drug career in particular have come into contact with many viruses due to their lifestyle, including pathogens that also belong to the corona virus family. Your immune system may have been better prepared for this specific virus, says Fehr.
The study also proves how good it is that drug addicts in Switzerland are well cared for in an opioid program. The better you have the previous illnesses under control, the less they would burden the immune system.
Zurich is not an isolated case
Which factors exactly led to the big corona surprise would have to be clarified in further studies. “We are dying to get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately, we currently lack the funding for this,” says Fehr.
But it is already clear that the Zurich study surprise is not an isolated case. According to physician Philip Bruggmann, drug dispensaries across Europe are currently making the same – positive – experiences.
More in «10 before 10»
You can see more on the subject tonight at 9:50 p.m. on the show “10 vor 10” on SRF1.