Monday, July 13, 2009

Obesity may increase your risk for Swine Flu

There have been some disturbing news articles about the obese and the H1Ni Swine flu. On May 20th, 2009, the Washington Post reported that "a survey of people hospitalized because of swine flu in California has raised the possibility that obesity is as much of a risk factor for serious complications from the flu as diabetes, heart disease and pregnancy, all known to raise a person's risk... They also quote Anne Schuchat, one of the CDC epidemiologists managing the outbreak, stating "We were surprised by the frequency of obesity among the severe cases that we've been tracking." She said scientists are "looking into" the possibility that obese people should be at the head of the line along with other high-risk groups if a swine flu vaccine becomes available.

Today there were numerous articles published about a Chicago outbreak. The Associated Press' Mike Stobbe today ran an article titled "Obesity a Risk Factor in Swine Flu?" In the article he reported that "a high proportion of those who have gotten severely ill from swine flu have been obese or extremely obese, but health officials have said that might be due to the fact that heavy people tend to have asthma and other conditions that make them more susceptible. Obesity alone has never been seen as a risk factor for "seasonal" flu.

But in a report released Friday, health officials detailed the cases of 10 Michigan patients who were very sick from swine flu in late May and early June and ended up at a specialized hospital in Ann Arbor. Three of them died.

Nine of the 10 were either obese or extremely obese. Only three of the 10 had other health problems. Two of the three that died had no other health conditions.

This hardly settles the question of whether obesity is its own risk factor for swine flu. It’s possible the patients had undiagnosed heart problems or other unidentified conditions."

While the prospect of contracting the "Pandemic" swine flu is worthy of concern, I also see the potential for an "obesity" backlash. It's clearly true that obese people are ridiculed and discriminated against, but these new articles may spur further isolation. If fat people are equated to a higher risk, then it is conceivable that thinner people may over react to the obese that may have any flu like symptoms. While it is important to report the increased risk, I think they should consider the issue with greater compassion towards the obese.

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