New study shows how Covid strain directly infects fat tissue

Deaths from lockdown may exceed those from Covid says expert

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Many people of all ages and in varying health conditions have been affected by COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Although it impacts people in different ways there are a number of factors known to raise your risk of having a more complicated recovery. These included being overweight, which is a risk factor for many health problems.

Being overweight or obese also contributed to “poor COVID-19 outcomes” for patients – such as being more likely to need a ventilator to breathe.

Now scientists have revealed there could be a more direct reason for the way Covid affects overweight people.

A study by Stanford Medicine investigators proved SARS-CoV-2 can infect human fat tissue.

The research, which was published in the Science Translational Medicine journal this year, involved infecting fat tissue removed from 22 patients undergoing surgeries with the strain in a laboratory.

It was also successfully transmitted in autopsy samples from patients who had died of COVID-19.

The paper found that the specific strain of coronavirus could directly infect adipose tissue (more commonly known as fat).

This then triggers a cycle of viral replication within adipocytes (resident fat cells), and results in inflammation in immune cells that hang out in fat tissue.

In turn, previously uninfected cells within the tissue can also become inflamed.

Speaking in Science Daily, co-senior author of the study Professor Catherine Blish, said: “Fat tissue’s susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection may be playing a role in making obesity a COVID-19 risk factor.

“Infected fat tissue pumps out precisely the inflammatory chemicals you see in the blood of severe Covid patients. It’s reasonable to infer that having a lot of infected fat could contribute to the overall inflammatory profile of severely ill COVID-19 patients.”

Organs such as our hearts and kidneys are surrounded by fat tissue and can be adversely affected by tissue inflammation.

Researchers found infection with the capability of driving inflammation in almost every SARS-CoV-2-infected fat-tissue sample they collected and analysed.

They also discovered genetic material encoding SARS-CoV-2 was present in fat tissue from different bodily areas of eight patients who had died of COVID-19.

In two cases involving deceased Covid patients, they saw infiltration of inflammatory immune cells next to infected fat cells in epicardial fat.

Co-senior author, Professor Tracey McLaughlin, added: “This was of great concern to us, as epicardial fat lies right next to the heart muscle, with no physical barrier separating them.

“So, any inflammation there may directly affect the heart muscle or coronary arteries.”

Body mass index (BMI) is one method to tell if you are overweight or obese.

According to the NHS, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 means you’re a healthy weight, whereas 25 to 29.9 means you’re overweight.

If your BMI is 30 to 39.9 it means you’re obese, and 40 or above means you’re severely obese.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • A high temperature or shivering (chills)
  • A new, continuous cough
  • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • An aching body
  • A headache
  • A sore throat
  • A blocked or runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling sick or being sick.

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