COVID-19 and obesity

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – Starting Monday, Tennessee will open up vaccine eligibility to many people including folks 16 years and older who have a high-risk health condition.

One condition that falls under these conditions that folks might not think about is obesity.

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Extra fat around the body is considered the disease obesity when a person’s body mass index is over 30.

“One out of three people is obese in this country and in the south it’s especially bad, usually around 30 to 45 percent,” Bariatric & General Surgeon at CHI Memorial Dr. Rishabh Shah said.

The disease is a COVID-19 high-risk health condition.

“Your chance of having a positive COVID test is about 50 percent higher than somebody who is not obese. Once you do have COVID, your chance of having to be hospitalized is more than double than somebody that doesn’t have obesity and you have about a 75 percent higher chance of ending up in the ICU and about 50 percent of actually dying from COVID,” Dr. Shah said.

There are multiple reasons for these numbers.

One being the virus entry point, ACE2 protein.

“Fat cells have a high proportion of that protein. So people with obesity can have a higher viral count, because of their access fat tissue,” Dr. Shah said.

What can make COVID deadly is the body’s immune response and uncontrollable inflammation.

“Obesity in itself is an inflammatory state. Our body does not like all that extra fat. It’s hard on the heart. It’s hard on our liver, our pancreas, our kidneys and so we have a constant state of inflammation. So, we’re already at this preset high inflammatory state and COVID just makes it worse,” Dr. Shah said.

Dr. Shah said that folks battling this disease  should consider getting a COVID vaccine.