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Influenza in obese travellers: increased risk and complications, decreased vaccine effectiveness

BACKGROUND:

Obesity is a worldwide epidemic and was empirically shown to increase the risk of developing severe influenza virus infection. As international travel becomes more common and obesity is now prevalent even in low- and middle-income countries, travellers may have an increased risk of contracting influenza virus especially during peak influenza season.

METHODS:

An analysis of the literature, centered on publications from 2014 to 2019, was performed, with an emphasis on human epidemiological data, human studies ex vivo, and studies in mouse models of obesity. Our search efforts focused on influenza disease severity, pathogenesis, evolutionary dynamics, and measures of infection control in the obese and overweight host.RESULTS: Obesity is associated with an increased risk of infection, as well as a greater chance for hospitalization and severe complications. Studies in mouse models of obesity have uncovered that obese hosts suffer increased viral spread, delayed viral clearance, and heightened damage to the respiratory epithelium. Innate and adaptive immune responses are delayed, thus increasing morbidity and mortality. Further, infection control measures, including vaccination and antivirals, prove less effective in obese hosts. Finally, the obese microenvironment allows for increased duration and amount of viral shedding and potentially increases the chance for emergence of virulent minor variants in the viral population. Together, obese hosts are at high risk of influenza infection, as well as severe sequalae following infection.

CONCLUSIONS:

Obese travellers should be aware of influenza activity in the regions visited, as well as take protective measures prior to travel. Vaccination is highly recommended for all travellers, but especially highly susceptible obese travellers.


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