Why Obese People Are At A Higher Risk Of Having Severe COVID-19

A new study is shedding light on why obese people are at a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, requiring hospitalization and even dying from the novel coronavirus. 

A Breakthrough Discovery

A group of scientists determined how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with fat cells, also known as adipocytes, in a recent study shared on the preprint database bioRxiv. The researchers examined the fat tissues from some patients who died of COVID-19 and found that particles of the novel coronavirus were in the fats surrounding their organs.

To have a better understanding of the discovery, the researchers collected fat tissues from bariatric surgeries and experimented with how they would interact with the coronavirus. The scientists found that adipocytes could be infected with the virus and even develop a low level of inflammation. The immune cells found in fat tissues, macrophages, also became vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 and produced a more intense immune reaction. 

The discovery led the team to speculate that SARS-CoV-2 could make fat tissues a reservoir of some sort when it goes into hiding from the immune system.

Implications Of The Study

The study has yet to be peer-reviewed and pass the scrutiny of other medical experts and critics, but it gives a possible explanation on why obese people have a higher risk of suffering severe COVID-19. 

“This could well be contributing to severe disease. We're seeing the same inflammatory cytokines that I see in the blood of the really sick patients being produced in response to infection of those [fat] tissues,” senior author Dr. Catherine Blish, of Stanford University School of Medicine, told the New York Times

Philipp Scherer, a scientist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who was not part of the study, also told the Times that the team’s findings showed that the virus could indeed “infect fat cells directly.”

Prior to the discovery, the medical community turned to some theories to justify the increased risk of bad COVID-19 outcomes in obese people. One of them pinned it on the idea of excessive abdominal fat pushing against the diaphragm and restricting the airflow in the lungs. 

Another theory focused on the properties of the blood based on its composition. Obese people’s blood is said to clot much more easily because of its higher fat content. One of the manifestations of severe COVID-19 in some people is extensive blood clotting, according to Live Science

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