Obesity may play an important role in influenza transmission, a new study shows.
People who are obese have a higher risk of serious diseases and health conditions, with obesity increasing the risk of severe complications and death from the flu virus infections, especially for the elderly.
Aubree Gordon, assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, studied the epidemiologic features and transmission of influenza in Nicaragua.
Her team looked at data from more than 1,800 individuals in 320 households in Managua, Nicaragua, from 2015 to 2017, focusing on “viral shedding,” or how long influenza virus is detectable in people’s mucous.
Gordon discusses why the new findings are important—and what could reduce the risk.
What were the key findings of your study?
What we’ve found in this study was that obese adults shed influenza A virus for significantly longer than nonobese adults.
Overall, they shed virus for 42 percent longer. We looked at individuals that were either asymptomatic—meaning that they had no symptoms—or they were paucisymptomatic—they had one minor symptom maybe a bit of headache, nothing major.
Those obese adults shed influenza virus A for about twice as long as nonobese adults with the same symptoms.
Why is this significant?
The significance of this finding is that previously obesity has been shown to be a risk factor for severe influenza. But this indicates that obesity may also affect influenza transmission.
The potential impact for people around that individual is that if a person is shedding influenza virus longer, they’re probably infectious for longer. And so that will increase the probability that the people they come into contact with could get the virus.
Obesity is a huge problem worldwide. We really have a pandemic of obesity going on.
We already know that obesity affects the burden of chronic diseases and severity of several infectious diseases, but this indicates that it may also affect transmission so it may increase the rates of infectious diseases.
Are there any practical applications to this information?
Obese individuals are already a target population for vaccines and antivirals but certainly encouraging individuals to get vaccinated, particularly if they are obese or have other risk factors, is important.
And then getting this information out to physicians might make it more likely that they will test their patience for influenza and prescribe antivirals.