In early April, Edna McCloud woke up and found her hands tied to the hospital bed.
For the past four days, she has spent the past four days on a ventilator in a hospital in St. Louis County, Missouri. While fighting a severe case of COVID-19, she beat and kicked under sedation.
“They told me, ‘You were a real fighter down there,’” McCloud recalled. McCloud is a 68-year-old African American retiree with a history of diabetes and heart disease. When she was infected with the coronavirus, she weighed nearly 300 pounds. The coronavirus damaged her lungs and kidneys. Almost six months later, she was proud of her worst moment. She said: “They said people with the conditions I have, normally, this goes the other way.”
As obesity rates continue to climb in the United States, its role in COVID-19 is a difficult scientific question. A series of recent studies have shown that people who are overweight are more likely to develop serious diseases than others. Experiments conducted in animal and human cells have shown how excess fat can destroy the immune system.
How obesity link to COVID-19?
But the relationship between obesity and COVID-19 is complex. There are still many mysteries. Being overweight often goes hand-in-hand with other medical conditions (such as high blood pressure and diabetes), which in itself may make the fight against COVID-19 more difficult.
Obesity also severely affects those who are identified as black or Latino. These people are much higher than those who die from COVID-19 infection. This is largely due to workplace exposure, limited medical services, and Other inequalities related to systemic racism. People who are overweight, even doctors, must maintain a constant stigma about their appearance and health, further impairing their prognosis.
Dr. Christy Richardson, an endocrinologist at SSM Health in Missouri, said: “A new pandemic is now laying itself on top of an ongoing epidemic.”
Regarding the impact of obesity on infectious diseases, she said: “We are still learning, but it’s not difficult to understand how the body can become overwhelmed.”
The correlation between COVID-19 and obesity is worrying. In a report published last month, researchers found that obese patients infected by the coronavirus are more than twice as likely to be admitted to the hospital. Meanwhile, the probability of dying from COVID-19 is nearly 50% higher. Another study that has not yet been peer-reviewed shows that of the nearly 17,000 COVID-19 hospitalized patients in the United States, more than 77% are overweight or obese.
Similar links were unmasked during the H1N1 flu pandemic
In the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, similar connections were revealed. At that time, researchers began to notice that obese infected people were more likely to pass out of hospital and die. The influenza vaccine administered in the following years performed poorly in overweight individuals. Even if they were vaccinated, their prevalence was higher than that of their peers.
Dr. Anne Dixon, a pulmonologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center, said: “Obesity resets human physiology.” He studies how overweight affects respiratory diseases such as asthma. “People who are very obese are living on sort of a precarious position. This is not just cosmetic.”
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