The risk of contracting influenza is up again this year in the U.S., and doctors have been warning the public yet again to make sure that a flu shot is on top of their priority list. It is estimated that the flu in general kills between 250,000 to 500,000 people per year; however, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic killed just over 500,000 people via both primary and secondary infections.
Senior citizens, pregnant women and children should be given priority, doctors say, but those who are overweight or obese may have a harder time fighting the virus. Two thirds of the U.S. population is currently overweight, which may be contributing to a more rapid spread of the virus from state to state.
Research published in the International Journal of Obesity suggests that being overweight will have an effect on one’s ability to fight off infection. In 2009, obesity showed to be a self-determining risk factor for the first time, when observing the rates of mortality caused by the virus.
One study showed a higher death rate among obese mice after they had received the influenza injection. Their immune response was also impaired.
Compared to those who are at a healthy weight, heavy people seem to have a more difficult time creating the antibodies needed in response to the flu shot, earlier studies show. Those who are severely over weight produce a large quantity of immune cells that are ineffective. Researchers are still unclear as to whether being an overweight person increases your susceptibly to catching Influenza in the first place, however.
In another ongoing study, it is being tested to what extent the BMI (body mass index) has in determining one’s vulnerability to catching the flu. The team leading the study found that those with a BMI of 35 or higher were those most at risk. One reason being that obese population has a “decreased CD8+ T-cell activation” and a “decreased expression of functional proteins”. T-cell activation is a process by which native cells send signals to attack mature T-cells. This in turn, creates a development of a new class of calls named CD4+ T which set out to destroy beneficial cells, and CD8+ T cells which lend to the suppression of healthy activity. What was also found, as it was previously in other studies, was that females had a higher antibody response when compared to their male counterparts.
Less than half of all Americans reportedly received their flu shot this past year. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study which showed that between 2013 and 2014, only about 39 percent of people set out to be vaccinated.
As it stands, what’s recommended is that only those with a previous allergic reaction to the flu shot, should not receive one, as well as those who are already suffering a flu, or those who have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome.
The CDC also mentions that diabetes may put one at higher risk for contracting the flu, as well as those with asthma. Obesity also poses an increase in the risk of developing a serious respiratory infection, even when influenza is not circulating especially following surgery.
By Katie Sevigny