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Are Obese People More Susceptible to Coronavirus?
Coronavirus has taken the world by storm. Never before has a disease put entire countries on lockdown all over the world. Perhaps what feels most frightening is that we know little about this particular virus, and the outcome is unknown. While information is limited at this time, researchers have determined that certain people are at higher risk of contracting and dying from Coronavirus compared to others. People who are overweight and obese may be particularly concerned about their susceptibility to this virus because excess weight can make fighting illnesses more challenging.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that cause disease in humans and animals such as camels, bats, and cats. The virus gets its name because of its crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under the microscope. You likely have seen the name COVID-19 used interchangeably. This acronym is the name for the “coronavirus 2019” that has become a pandemic in early 2020.
These types of viruses can lead to specific diseases when they infect humans and animals. Past coronaviruses that have affected many people include SARS and MERS. According to the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases, COVID-19 likely originated in a seafood and poultry factory in China. This particular virus is spread by close human-to-human contact.
What are the symptoms of Coronavirus?
Symptoms of Coronavirus do not usually appear for 2-14 days after initial exposure. Thus, it is essential to limit contact from other people to prevent spreading the virus as you likely will not know you have it until you get symptoms.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention states that the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- Shortness of Breath
Other symptoms that people experience with COVID-19 include:
- Runny nose
- Loss of sense of smell
- Sore throat
If you have these symptoms, contact your doctor right away to tell them you are concerned you may have COVID-19. People with these symptoms should take all precautions to limit exposure to other people, including social distancing and isolating yourself from other members in your household.
Because COVID-19 is a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Currently, treatment for COVID-19 is limited to supportive care that helps people breathe. If symptoms of this disease are mild, people can usually manage these symptoms at home with rest, fluids, and humidified air. However, if the illness becomes more severe, people require hospitalization and may need to have a ventilator to breathe for them.
Who is at Higher Risk for Coronavirus?
As more people are becoming infected, tested, and are seeking care in hospitals, we are beginning to understand who is more susceptible to Coronavirus. Based on what is currently known about COVID-19, the CDC has determined that the following people are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19:
- People over the age of 65
- People who live in facilities such as nursing homes or long-term nursing care facilities
- People who have medical conditions that put them at higher risk, including:
- Those with chronic lung disease including those with moderate to severe asthma
- People with heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions
- Anyone who is immunocompromised, such as people who have been treated for cancer, those who have had organ transplants, and people living with immunodeficiencies such as HIV/AIDS.
- People who have severe obesity (BMI ≥ 40) or those who have underlying health conditions that may include diabetes, renal failure, or liver disease. Those with medical conditions that are not well-controlled are particularly at higher risk of suffering more severely from COV-19.
- People who are pregnant are also known to be at higher risk of getting severe viral illnesses compared to non-pregnant people.
Why are Obese People More Susceptible to Coronavirus?
Obese people of any age have a greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Recent research focusing on other viral illnesses has found that people who are overweight or obese have a greater likelihood of being hospitalized. For example, a 2019 study in the Journal of Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses found that patients who were overweight and obese had a significantly higher risk of being hospitalized for respiratory viruses.
Obesity is a risk factor for Coronavirus because people who are overweight commonly have other diseases that weaken their bodies. For example, overweight and obese people are likely to have:
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Sleep apnea
- Liver disease
These other diseases, or comorbidities, weaken the immune system. Although the relationship between obesity and decreased immune function is not well understood, studies suggest that stress on your tissues from compromised metabolic function impairs your immune system. Furthermore, research has found that obesity weakens the antiviral response in a person’s immune system. Consequently, it can be harder for obese individuals to fight off a viral infection compared to non-obese people.
In the wake of the media news coverage of COVID-19, there has been an increase in news articles that are highlighting how this disease is particularly affecting overweight and obese people. This phenomenon may be two-fold. Firstly, obese people are more likely to suffer more severely from COVID-19 because of other medical conditions and a weakened immune system.
Secondly, it is important to note that the percentage of people who are overweight and obese is increasing.
According to the World Health Organization, the rate of obesity worldwide tripled between 1975 and 2016. Indeed, 1.9 billion adults aged 18 or older were considered either overweight or obese globally. In the United States alone, 42.4% of the adult population is obese. Therefore, it is not surprising that many people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are also overweight or obese.
What Should I Do if I Think I Have COVID-19?
If you think you may have Coronavirus, the CDC has outlined steps to prevent spreading the virus and to care for yourself at home.
- Call your doctor if you have any symptoms that make you suspect you have COVID-19.
- Stay at home except to get medical care.
- If you must get medical care, avoid public transportation, notify the office ahead of time so they can protect themselves and other patients, and try to wear a mask.
- To prevent spreading the virus in your home, stay away from others, and designate a “sick room” and use a separate bathroom if available. Limit your contact with pets as little information is known on how COVID-19 affects animals.
- If you or someone you live with has COVID-19 and needs emergency medical attention, call 9-1-1 immediately and inform the operator that the person needing attention has COVID-19 or has been exposed. This is an added measure to protect your first responders from exposure.
Many people can treat COVID-19 at home. However, people that are at higher risk of suffering more severely from COVID-19 are likely to need hospitalization to fight this virus.
What Can I Do to Prevent Coronavirus if I am Overweight or Obese?
If you are overweight or obese and you are concerned about how Coronavirus may affect you, talk with your doctor about how best to support your immune system and care for other health conditions you may have during this time. Managing your other health conditions can be challenging when medical practices and doctors are limiting patient visits to suppress the spread of COVID-19. Fortunately, many doctors are starting to meet with their patients remotely, so check with your doctor to see if they will schedule a telemedicine appointment for you.
Along with managing your other health conditions, you must follow the recommendations of your national and local public health departments to decrease your risk of infection. Many cities and countries have specific isolation and lockdown policies in place to keep everyone, especially those at higher risk, safe. Similarly, follow all personal hygiene recommendations, including proper handwashing and sanitization.
Furthermore, if you had a planned elective medical procedure such as bariatric surgery, it has likely been postponed. While it can be frustrating to have your plans changed when you have been preparing physically and mentally for bariatric surgery, it is for your safety and others that it is postponed.
To learn how bariatric patients can keep their immune system strong during the Coronavirus pandemic, read BariBuilder's recommendations here.
Where can I access up-to-date, reliable information on Coronavirus?
Coverage of Coronavirus has taken over all news sources and social media platforms. When there is so much information available at the touch of your fingertips, it can feel overwhelming to sort facts from fiction. For the most up-to-date information on Coronavirus and public health, visit https://www.coronavirus.gov/. If you are interested in the latest research that is available on Coronavirus, visit https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus. Finally, most states and countries have up-to-date information on their government public health pages.
We at BariBuilder wish you and your loved one’s health and safety as we continue to work together to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.