Obesity increases a person’s risk for severe complications from influenza and it may also play a role in how flu spreads.
A study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases found that obese adults infected with flu shed the virus for a longer time than adults who are not obese, potentially increasing the opportunity for the infection to spread to others.
“This is the first real evidence that obesity might impact more than just disease severity,” said senior study author Aubree Gordon.
“It might directly impact transmission as well.”
Obesity can alter the body’s immune response and lead to chronic inflammation, which increases with age, in addition to making breathing more difficult and increasing the need for oxygen.
The study authors noted that these factors may help explain how obesity could affect influenza risk, severity, and transmission potential.
“It is therefore even more important to develop effective strategies to prevent and control influenza, especially in the overweight and obese population, which could be challenging because of the poor vaccine responses in this population,” said Stacey Schultz-Cherry, who was not involved in the study.
“With increasing focus on the development of a universal influenza vaccine, improved protection from influenza is on the horizon.
“The question remains whether these approaches will not only protect this target population, but also reduce viral shedding duration.”