Obesity spreads influenza: Overweight people take twice as long to recover from the flu

An epidemiologic study conducted by researchers from America and Nicaragua showed that obesity increases the period needed for a patient to recover. Their research, which was published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, monitored around 1,700 people from 320 households in Nicaragua for three flu seasons from 2015 to 2017. The participants, which included both obese and healthy individuals, were observed for the duration of illness caused by the influenza A virus.

Obesity is an epidemic that affects more than 650 million worldwide. Although this condition is easily preventable with changes in lifestyle, the number of people suffering from it continues to increase over the years, even in low-income countries like Nicaragua. People who suffer from obesity have impaired immune systems and excessive inflammation, which can affect the risk, severity, and transmission of diseases like the flu. Previous studies have shown that obesity increases the risk of severe influenza outcomes. However, there is no prior research regarding its effects on mild cases of the flu and its transmission.

The team observed that obese patients who exhibited two or more symptoms of the flu needed a longer recovery period of 5.2 days compared to 3.7 days in non-obese individuals. Moreover, obesity also doubled the recovery period from 1.6 to 3.2 days for those who had just one or no symptoms of infection. However, the association between the duration of the illness and obesity was only observed in cases due to influenza A virus and not in those caused by influenza B virus.

According to Dr. Aubree Gordon from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and the lead author of the study, “this is the first real evidence that obesity might impact more than just disease severity, it might directly impact transmission as well.”

This study highlights the potential of obesity to serve as a target for therapeutic and preventive treatments for the flu. Moreover, it also proves just how important it is to stop the obesity epidemic since it also increases the risk for other infectious diseases. (Related: Obesity hurts immune system, according to a new study.)

Health risks associated with obesity

Obese people are at high risk not just for conditions regarding physical health but also mental health. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, some of the diseases associated with obesity include the following:

  • Type 2 diabetes – Eight out of 10 people who have type 2 diabetes also suffer from obesity. The close relationship between these two is due to the secretion of pro-inflammatory hormones by fat cells around the waist. Too much inflammation reduces the body’s response to insulin and alters metabolism, leading to an increase in sugar level that can progress to type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure – Excess fats form plaques inside arteries that prevent blood from flowing. Because of this, blood exerts a greater force on the walls of blood vessels than normal. When left untreated, high blood pressure could inflict damage on the blood vessels and increase the risk of heart diseases, stroke, kidney disease, and death.
  • Cardiovascular disease – Aside from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sugar levels associated with obesity also increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, and chest pains.
  • Sleep apnea – Obese people suffer from difficulties in breathing and an increase in oxygen demand. These become even more difficult to handle when a person is asleep, which is why many patients with obesity also have sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by irregular breathing while sleeping. When left untreated, this disease causes an increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

For more articles about the health risks associated with obesity, visit Health.news.

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