Obesity Prolongs Flu Contagion
While it may be a little early to be thinking about the flu, which doesn’t usually begin running rampant until November in the Northern Hemisphere, you might want to take steps to protect yourself, especially if you are considerably overweight. That’s because new research suggests that those who are obese are more likely to have extended illnesses and be contagious for a longer time.
The study, which was conducted at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, found that obese people tend to carry the influenza A virus for longer than their normal-weight counterparts, creating the potential for a worse infection and significantly greater transmission to others.1 These results are based on information collected on 1,783 men, women, and children living in Managua, Nicaragua. The data was gathered throughout three flu seasons, taking place in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Subjects were monitored for a period of 10 to 13 days once a household member developed flu symptoms, and samples were taken from the nose and throats from each of the participants and tested for the presence of flu virus RNA. The researchers discovered that it took the obese volunteers 42 percent longer to shed the flu virus compared to their peers who were normal weight. Viral shedding refers to the presence of the virus in bodily fluids that can be transmitted to others.
What’s more, even when the obese subjects only experienced mild cases of the flu, they still took longer to recover. And it wasn’t a minor difference, either. The investigators found that obese participants had a whopping 104 percent longer period of viral shedding than their slimmer peers.
The study is somewhat limited by the fact that the researchers only tested the influenza A virus and did not include influenza B. Both are versions of the flu, but influenza A is the one typically associated with moderate to severe illness and widespread epidemics, while influenza B is typically milder.
Interestingly, there is no evidence seen in the research that obesity has a similar effect on the flu in children. The findings do correlate, however, with earlier research that showed obesity can have an effect on flu severity. A 2013 study at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in Jamaica Plain found that obesity is an independent risk factor for severe cases of influenza during outbreaks.2
So, what does this all mean for you? If you are overweight or obese, it means you might want to start altering your lifestyle and losing weight now, well in advance of flu season. Of course, the flu isn’t the only reason you should shed excess pounds. It also means you are more likely to catch a milder case of it and be sick for a shorter period of time.
We tend to think of the flu as just another fall and winter bug we need to avoid. But the flu can be extremely serious, particularly in the elderly and those with chronic conditions, and can lead to complications including pneumonia, seizures, and death.
And even if you are not overweight, prevention is the best policy when it comes to the flu. There are plenty of safe methods of avoiding transmission that are much more effective than flu vaccines, which often do not even contain the strain that’s going around. Start by washing your hands frequently with soap and water to rid any germs you’ve come into contact with, and count to 20 in your head to make sure you’re washing for long enough to have an impact.
Taking a natural immune system booster containing herbs such as Echinacea and astragalus root can help support your body’s efforts to fight off infections. And taking a pathogen destroying formula at the first sign of flu symptoms can enhance your body’s ability to eliminate the virus. And don’t forget that we catch the flu when we’re exposed to others who are contagious, so try to limit your contact with anyone showing symptoms such as sniffling, sneezing, and coughing.
- 1. Maier, Hannah E.; et al. "Obesity Increases the Duration of Influenza A Virus Shedding in Adults." Journal of Infectious Diseases. 2 August 2018. Accessed 8 August 2018. https://academic.oup.com/jid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/infdis/jiy370/5051913.
- 2. Cocoros, Noelle M.; et al. "Obesity as a risk factor for severe influenza-like illness." Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses. 20 August 2013. Accessed 9 August 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4177795/.