Being male or overweight can lead to more serious COVID-19

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In a new study, researchers found that being male or obese reduces the chance of survival from severe coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The findings come from a study of almost 17,000 patients with COVID-19, in which researchers from three universities, including Imperial, aim to answer important questions about the course of and risk factors for the disease.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, COVID-19 can be more severe in older people and people with chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease, a weakened immune system, diabetes, and some cancers.

However, less is known about how the virus exploits age, sex, and other underlying health conditions.

In an effort to better understand who is most severely affected by the virus, what happens to them in hospital, and why some people have better outcomes than others, the team analyzed data obtained from 16,749 COVID-19 patients in the UK.

The analysis is based on information obtained by more than 2,500 research nurses and medical students from 166 UK hospitals.

The researchers found that after adjusting for other medical problems such as lung, heart and kidney disease that are already known to cause poor outcomes, being male or obese (with a BMI over 30) is a big factor linked to death in UK hospitals, a feature not seen in China, where it is thought that fewer people are obese.

Although the reasons why obese people are suffering such severe COVID-19 and dying more than other groups are not clear, the researchers believe it could be because they have reduced lung function and possibly more inflammation in adipose tissue—the fatty tissue under the skin and around internal organs.

According to the researchers, this might contribute to an enhanced ‘cytokine storm’ – a potentially life-threatening overreaction of the body’s immune reaction which causes harm.

The lead author of the study is Professor Peter Openshaw, from the National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial.

The study is published in MedRxiv.

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