TORONTO — The U.S. Centres for Disease Control says chronic lung problems linked to obesity, not the obesity itself, appear to be raising some people’s risk of suffering bad disease when they get infected with swine flu.
Reports that obesity is common among people who have died from the new flu virus have led some public health officials to wonder whether it should be added to the list of risk factors for severe disease from influenza infection.
But Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Atlanta-based agency says the CDC believes people who are extremely or morbidly obese also have chronic lung disease.
She says carrying around the extra weight can compromise the lungs, making people more vulnerable to the negative affects of influenza.
So Schuchat says obesity is not in itself a new risk factor for influenza, its an outward sign of the presence of a risk factor that is already known.
Figures released by the CDC and the Public Health Agency of Canada continue to show that children and young people are making up a far great proportion of those being hospitalized for swine flu than one would expect to see with seasonal flu.
In Canada, 17 years old is the median age for hospitalized cases with the new H1N1 virus. In the United States, the median age is 19. Senior citizens are the age group that normally winds up in hospital with seasonal flu infection.
The CDC says it is finding about three-quarters of Americans who have died from swine flu had other health conditions that may have made them less able to fight off the virus.
The Public Health Agency of Canada only has details of the health status of 19 of 21 deaths. (Quebec announced an additional death Friday after the report was written, its 12th and Canada’s 22nd.)
Of those, 13 or 68 per cent had pre-existing health problems, the agency said in its weekly online influenza update, FluWatch. Those underlying conditions included lung disease, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.