Women with obesity may be more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, according to a study led by Katherine Lee of the West Virginia University School of Medicine. The researchers used a mouse model to explore how obesity and gender may influence COVID-19 outcomes. The results showed that obese female mice experienced the worst symptoms.
According to the researchers, obesity substantially increases the risk of being hospitalized, placed on a ventilator, or dying from COVID-19.
“No human is 100% healthy in every respect,” said Lee. “There are always going to be little differences in the way our bodies function and those changes can ultimately affect the ways we respond to everything. So, I think as soon as we start incorporating those differences and changes – metabolic diseases and preexisting conditions – into our work, we can learn more about how vaccines and therapeutics might be more or less effective in these people.”
For the investigation, two groups of mice were exposed to SARS-CoV-2. One group had been consuming a high-fat diet, while the other had been consuming a normal diet and maintained a healthy weight.
The results showed that overall, the mice that developed obesity experienced more severe disease and exhibited symptoms sooner. Severe infection was found to be most prevalent among female mice in the obesity group, who developed high viral burdens and the most inflammation in their lungs.
“Clinically, a lot of data shows that men are more predisposed to severe COVID-19 than women,” said Lee. “While we can’t translate our findings from female mice directly to female humans, they do indicate an area for future study. Why does sex play a role in outcomes of COVID-19? And how is obesity a confounding factor?”
“These mice are a new preclinical model we developed to be used as another tool to measure the protection of vaccines and other therapeutics the Vaccine Development Center has in development.”
“What we see with SARS-CoV-2 in a host with metabolic disease here is potentially relevant to respiratory pathogens and diseases. Preexisting conditions and comorbidities are going to be really important to consider moving forward.”
The study is published in the journal iScience.
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