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Coronavirus Targets Fat Cells: Scientists Found Possible Reason Behind Severe COVID-19 Among Overweight, Obese People

Obesity and overweight are among the risk factors for severe COVID-19 as observed in the cases throughout the pandemic. A recent study published in Obesity Reviews showed that obese COVID-19 patients were 113% more likely to be hospitalized, while 74% more are likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), and 48% are likely to die compared to people in a healthy weight.

Scientists were unable to explain the phenomenon clearly for nearly two years, but a new study showed how coronavirus infects obese and overweight people.


coronavirus attacks fat cells

The potential relationship between body fat status and rates of infection. (PHOTO: Frontiers in Public Health)


Fat Cells Store Immune Proteins to Fight Infection

According to an article in New Scientist, fat cells store immune proteins to help fight off bacterial infections. Known as adipocytes, these tiny fat cells in the form of lipid droplets are found in all complex organisms. More so, they hold fats and other lipids, which are essential nutrients in the body.

In the past, scientists have thought that these tiny droplets were among the most vulnerable parts of the cell and were merely an inert structure or storage site. But recent studies reveal that they also carry proteins that carry a wide range of functions and are associated with various processes.

For instance, the immune proteins stored in this adipose tissue fight off bacterium that tries to infect the animal cell and ultimately prevent infection. Knowing that they store immune proteins, scientists have found why obese and overweight people usually get severe types of coronavirus infection.

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Fat Cells Become Reservoir of Coronavirus

The new study revealed that the novel coronavirus does not only infect cells but also inflame them and lead to severe COVID-19 cases, Fortune reported. The study suggests that the more fat cells a person has, the more susceptible they are to severe COVID-19 infections.

Researchers noted that the ability of the novel coronavirus to invade fat cells may have long-term implications for overweight and obese people infected with the virus. Epidemiologist Michael Toole from Burnet Institute in Melbourne, Australia said that fat cells serve as a reservoir for the virus and spread it to other body parts, resulting in an increased risk of long-term COVID-19 symptoms months after recovering.

The findings could help improve COVID-19 treatments and alert the medical profession and public health to examine the issues of overweight and obesity to help save lives.

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